|| Go back to the Wolf Dog Coalition's main page || Back to Letters & Background Info ||

Wolf Dog Coalition Logo

Wolf Dog Coalition - Pierotti, Ph.D. letter to Chief Staff Veterinarian
Biotechnology, Biologics, and Environmental Protection
U. S. Department of Agriculture

Dr. Robert B. Miller
Chief Staff Veterinarian
Biotechnology, Biologics, and Environmental Protection
U. S. Department of Agriculture
4700 River Road, Unit 148
Riverdale, Maryland 20737-1237

Dear Dr. Miller:

I have just finished reading your report concerning your consideration of the information presented at the meeting of 4 April, 1996 on usefulness of rabies vaccines in wolves and wolf-dog crosses. I am disappointed in your report, for it seems to ignore virtually all of the important information presented at that meeting and to hinge largely on contrived issues that are not really relevant to the major points.

First, you ignore the unanimous opinion of the scientists who participated in the meeting that wolves and dogs are each other's closest relatives. The two are so close in fact that they cannot be distinguished at the physiological or genetic level, which means that from the perspective of medical treatment and vaccines they are identical. The issue of interbreeding is further evidence, but is not definitive. Wolves and coyotes can interbreed, but they are easily distinguished genetically whereas wolves and dogs cannot be so distinguished. Nonetheless, the appropriate scientific conclusion of interbreeding between wolves and coyotes (and between dogs and coyotes) is that rabies vaccines are appropriate for use in coyotes as well.

The issue you raise concerning use of modified live vaccines was not the issue discussed at the meeting. What the scientists present (myself included) agreed upon unanimously was that modified live rabies vaccine would not be used in any canids (including domestic dogs), since it breaks readily. The discussions of distemper, parvovirus, etc. was not the subject of discussion since these issues are not relevant to human public health. In any case, distemper and parvo vaccines work well in wild canids, since I have used them for years in my study animals (wolves and coyotes) and have never had a problem.

Since you state that the scientific panel "agreed that the (killed) rabies vaccines currently licensed for use in dogs should protect wolves," and there is a serious public health issue with coyote-borne rabies, the only defensible position is to recommend use of killed rabies vaccines in all Canis that may have contact with humans, including captive wolves, wolf dogs, and coyotes.

You assured me at the meeting on 4 April that you would make your decision based on the best scientific evidence. The decision you have reached, however, is clearly in contrast to the recommendations of your scientific panel, and appears instead to have been influenced by lobbyists for specific interest groups. I strongly encourage you to alter your decision to that which is in the best interests of both public health and the scientific evidence, and allow use of killed rabies vaccines in all members of the genus Canis that have regular contact with humans.


Raymond Pierotti, Ph.D.
Professor of Evolutionary Biology

Copy of original signed letter is available upon request.
Contact The Wolf Dog Coalition ( psykowuf@erols.com ).

Copyright © 1996-1998 Wolf Dog Coalition. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint this letter in its entirety granted.

Go to the top of the page