Birmingham-area veterinarian Dr. William B. Weber has been charged with 30 counts of possessing protected wildlife, a violation of Alabama law 220-2-.26, which places restrictions on the possession, sale, importation and/or release of certain animals and fish.
On July 20, 2016, a total of 24 raccoons and 6 coyotes were confiscated from Dr. Weber’s clinic and residence. According to Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) Conservation Law Enforcement officials, the animals were housed in a variety of cages that indicated long-term captivity. Evidence also suggests some of the animals may have been illegally imported from Louisiana, a violation of both state and federal law.
Raccoons and coyotes are known carriers of rabies, a disease of the central nervous system affecting mammals that is 100 percent fatal in the absence of timely post-exposure treatment. While rabies has been largely eliminated in the U.S. pet population through vaccinations, the disease is still a threat to humans via bites or scratches from wildlife. There is no approved rabies vaccine for raccoons or coyotes.
"Rabies is a very serious public health threat that is always fatal if proper medical treatment is not delivered soon after exposure,” said Dr. Dee W. Jones, State Public Health Veterinarian with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). “Anyone who suspects they might have been exposed to a rabid animal should consult their doctor or county health department immediately."
The raccoons and coyotes seized by WFF from the Eastwood Animal Clinic in Birmingham and Dr. Weber’s home in Irondale, Ala., have been turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for rabies testing.
In addition to being rabies vectors, raccoons are also susceptible to other diseases that affect pets including canine distemper. Of the 24 raccoons confiscated from Dr. Weber, 11 were housed inside the Eastwood Animal Clinic creating the potential for disease exposure to both patients and staff.
The import or possession of wildlife designated as harmful to public health or native wildlife resources is prohibited by Alabama law. With the exception of permitted wildlife rehabilitators, personal possession of wild animals such as raccoons and coyotes is illegal. Permits for the rehabilitation of rabies vector wildlife are issued very sparingly. Dr. Weber is not a legally permitted wildlife rehabilitator.
“Attempting to keep a wild animal never ends well for the animal or the person confining it,” said Kerry Bradford, WFF Senior Conservation Enforcement Officer. “Veterinarians are often placed in a position to educate the public on the differences between domestic pets and wildlife. The violations Dr. Weber has been charged with are contrary to that message.”
In recent years, several well-meaning Alabamians have been exposed to rabies while attempting to “help” wildlife. In one instance, a litter of raccoon kits was transported from south to north Alabama inadvertently exposing several people to rabies. As a result those individuals received a series of post-exposure rabies treatments, which can be both expensive and painful.
“It’s almost always best to leave wildlife in the wild,” Bradford said. “Mother Nature might seem cruel, but she knows what is best for wild animals.”
If you have been exposed to a potentially rabid animal, contact your doctor or county health department as soon as possible. For county health department contact information, visit www.adph.org. Additional rabies information and a current list of permitted wildlife rehabilitation facilities can be found at outdooralabama.com.
WFF relies upon a concerned public to report wildlife law violations. To report wildlife law violations, please call the Operation GameWatch line at 1-800-272-4263.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.