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Wolf Dog Coalition - Scientists' Rebuttal


September 24, 1996

USDA/APHIS recent (non) decision, after an entire scientific expertpanel recommended the use of present day inactivated rabies vaccines onwolves and wolf-dog crosses, is irresponsible and may endanger public healthby creating a vulnerable population of domestic animals susceptible torabies living in close proximity to humans. The present day vaccines aresafe and efficacious in many diverse species of mammals (dogs, cats, horses,cows, etc.). Rabies in domestic animals has declined significantly in theU.S. and Canada due in large part to successful vaccination programs (1). This decline was not due to a non-approval or non-use of the vaccines available. An animal cannot be protected if it is never vaccinated.

There is no scientific evidence that a wolf's immune system is significantlydifferent than a dog's, in fact the preponderance of evidence points tojust the opposite. Documentation suggests that rabid wolves die within4 weeks of exposure to the virus (2,3,4,5,) similar to wolf/dog crosses (6) and dogs (7,8) in this respect. Blood chemistries, hematology, serologies, and responseto a variety of anesthetics are similar between dogs and wolves. Furthermore,vaccines, including rabies vaccines, used on dogs have long been routinelyused on captive wolves with apparently similar effectiveness (9).

USDA/APHIS argue that if the rabies vaccine is approved for use in wolves,then other vaccines against Parvovirus and Distemper, for example, willhave to be approved also. This is illogical and may again endanger publichealth. Humans are not susceptible to these diseases, although humans aredefinitely susceptible to rabies. Their logic is elusive. Recently, a paperappeared in JAVMA (10) stating that 41% of states and territories of the U.S.do not allow vaccination of wolf-dog crosses. Other states allowing vaccinationmay follow suit once the USDA/APHIS recommendations are widely read, onceagain endangering public health, possibly to an even higher level.

USDA stated that their preferred study would be challenge testing accordingto Title 9, CFR part 113.209, however testing has been accomplished underthese regulations since rabies vaccines are tested according to species.Disregarding current taxonomy (11), andevolutionary (12) and genetic (13,14) relationships, and applying a misguided use of the Biological Species Conceptin relation to this issue, USDA/APHIS have disregarded the scientific panel'sunanimous recommendation that rabies vaccines currently licenced for
use in dogs should also be used in wolves and wolf-dog crosses.

The logic that USDA/APHIS has used that wolves and coyotes can reproduceand produce fertile offspring and still are not considered the same speciesis generally misguided. Using their logic, Great Danes and Chihuahuas shouldbe designated as separate species based on a mechanically reproductiveisolating mechanism. The use of skull morphometrics alone would undoubtedlyclassify the two breeds as separate genera. A total disregard of systematicshas taken place in relation to this issue. The skull of an animal doesnot respond to a vaccine and is not the factor deciding if a vaccine willprime the immune system or not.

In closing, we recommend that USDA/APHIS reevaluate this decision andthat wolves and wolf-dog crosses be vaccinated in the best interests ofpublic and animal health.


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1. Johnson, M.R. 1992. The potential role of rabiesin relation to possible Yellowstone wolf populations. In Wolves forYellowstone Vol. 4, J.D. Varley and W.G. Brewster (eds.). National Park Service,Yellowstone National Park, Montana, pp. 546-567.

2. Rausch, R.L. 1958. Some observations on rabiesin Alaska, with special reference to wild Canidae. Journal of WildlifeManagement 22:246-260.

3. Chapman, R.C. 1978. Rabies: Decimation of a wolf pack in arcticAlaska. Science 201:365-367.

4. Ritter, D.G. 1991. Rabies in Alaskan furbearers: A review. SixthNorthern Furbearer Conference. Alaska Department of Fish and Game,Fairbanks, Alaska, pp. 26-34.

5. Weiler, G.J., G.W. Garner, and D.G. Ritter. 1995. Occurrence ofrabies in a wolf population in Northeastern Alaska. Journal of WildlifeDiseases 31(1):79-82.

6. Jay, M.T., K.F. Reilly, E.E. DeBess, E.H. Haynes,D.R. Bader, and L.R. Barrett. 1994. Rabies in a vaccinated wolf-doghybrid. JAVMA 205(12):1729-1732.

7. Fekadu, M. 1991. Canine rabies. In The naturalhistory of rabies, 2nd ed. G.M. Baer (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton,Florida. pp. 367-387.

8. Tierkel, E.S. 1975. Canine rabies. In The natural history of rabies,Vol. 2, G.M. Baer (ed.). Academic Press, New York 2:123-137.

9. Mech, L.D. Letter of 3/2/95 to Dr. S. Jenkins(NASPHV/Rabies Compendium/ Virginia Department of Public Health).

10. Johnston, W.B. and M.B. Walden. 1996. Results of a national surveyof rabies control procedures. JAVMA 208(10):1667-1672.

11. Wozencraft, W.C. 1993. Classification ofrecent Carnivora: Canidae. In Mammal species of the world: a taxonomicand geographic reference. D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder (eds.). SmithsonianInstitution Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 280-281.

12. Wayne, R.K. and S.J. O'Brien. 1987. Allozymedivergence within the Canidae. Systematic Zoology 36:339-355.

13. Chiarelli, A.B. 1975. The chromosomes of theCanidae. Pages 40-53 In The wild canids: Their systematics, behavioralecology, and evolution (M.W. Fox, ed.). Van Nostrand Reinhold, NewYork.

14. Wurster-Hill, D.H. and W.R. Centerwall. 1982. The interrelationshipsof chromosome banding patterns in canids, mustelids, hyena, and felids.Cytogenetics and Cell Genetics 34:178-192.




Copy of original signed letter is available upon request.
Note: In review of this web page we had discovered an error, which we have since corrected. Gergits did not sign the letter above as shown previously, we apologise for the error.
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.

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