Dr. Thomas Poole
Furry Times: Pets on the move
There is no shortage of science that proves how important pets are to the health of families and indiv: iduals. Life insurance actuarial studies have established that a close relationship with a pet can reduce mortality as effectively as a happy marriage, and more effectively than an unhappy one.
So when it is time to move, the pet needs to move too, or you might as well start smoking four packs a day and take up cliff diving. But moving a pet to Guam is more challenging than moving to anywhere in America, except Hawaii. Hawaii and Guam are the only rabies-free jurisdictions in the United States, and among the very few on Earth.
Guam only became rabies-free in the mid-1970s, and only with the use of prodigious quantities of poisons that have all since been outlawed by the EPA. If Guam were ever to lose its rabies-free status, it is very unlikely that it could ever be regained. Therefore, Guam and Hawaii guard jealously their rabies-free status.
Is rabies really such a big deal? Definitely. There is no other disease on Earth that approaches the mortality rate of clinical rabies. In all history, there are only 14 known human survivors of clinical rabies, and their profound and permanent neurological deficits make their “survival” an exercise in semantics. Clinical rabies must be prevented, not treated.
There are highly detailed laws that cover the entry of pet animals into Guam. It breaks down into where the pet is coming from and what preparations the owners have completed.
Former senator Frank Ishizaki sponsored legislation that established a home quarantine option for pets coming from the United States or overseas U.S. military installations. Guam is the only rabies-free jurisdiction with such an option. This option does not apply to pets coming from foreign countries. The thinking behind this legislation is this: the veterinarian is the critical lynchpin in the process of establishing that a pet is immune to rabies. If a U.S. civilian or military veterinarian is caught committing fraud in the immune verification of these pets, the consequences would be severe. But not necessarily so for foreign veterinarians. Our laws cannot reach them.
The test that verifies rabies immunity is called the fluorescent antibody virus-neutralization test (FAVN). An actual protective titer is thought to be at least 0.1 international units (IU), but in an abundance of caution, Hawaii and most rabies-free jurisdictions require a titer five times higher, 0.5 IU. To justify Guam’s home quarantine, we doubled that required titer yet again to a minimum of 1.0 IU. Fortunately, very few animals that complete the required two doses of rabies vaccine fail to meet that higher titer.
Under current laws, the pet must still be quarantined, either at home or in commercial quarantine until 120 days have passed since the lab received the passing blood sample.
Three years ago, Hawaii reduced that number to 30 days, and I have been hoping an energetic Guam senator will sponsor similar legislation. There is no reason not to. But for now, if the pet is not coming from the U.S. or an overseas U.S. military installation, then one should start the testing as soon as possible. The quarantine clock will start running when the sample gets to the lab, and if the 120 days have passed before the pet arrives on Guam, then normally only a single night is required in commercial quarantine on Guam.
The FAVN test is good for one year, or as long as the rabies vaccine lasts that was on board at the time the blood sample was drawn (up to three years). So it is good to update the rabies vaccination not more than a week or two before the FAVN blood sample is drawn.
There are other requirements, but the rest are pretty easy. The FAVN is the big hurdle and the one that drives the clock. You should request a brochure from email@example.com as soon as you know you will be moving to Guam. The staff will help you with the rest of the requirements.
If you happen to be coming to Guam from Hawaii, Japan, Australia, or any of the few other rabies-free jurisdictions, then life is good. No FAVN and no quarantine
Please remember that every animal with a heartbeat requires an entry permit. There are no exemptions. Military working dogs, service animals, chicks and ducks and geese better scurry all need entry permits. Arriving without an entry permit is a very expensive experience that all animal owners should endeavor to avoid.
Dr. Thomas Poole has been Guam’s territorial veterinarian for 15 years. Prior to that, he served 26 years in the U.S. Army Veterinary Command, of which he also served as commander. He is a board-certified diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, and he obtained a Masters in Public Health from Harvard University. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.