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‘Christian dogs’ and anti-vaxers have a bill they can love

By Tom Baxter

It was a matter a constituent brought to him some time ago. Something he hadn’t gotten around to in his first year at the General Assembly, Rep. Stan Gunter told the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee last week.

And yet, what a coincidence.

At a time when one of the hottest controversies in American politics has to do with vaccinations, Gunter’s legislation, House Bill 1000, takes the subject into new territory.

Gunter told the committee that his constituent owned an “older animal.” Her veterinarian was “insistent” that the dog gets its annual rabies shot, “and she had a concern that it would kill the dog.”

Some may be surprised that state law already allows a vet to exempt pets from being vaccinated for rabies in certain circumstances, but it’s not an easy process. Surely, the law was written that way on purpose.

Like polio, rabies may not inspire the same level of terror it did when I was a boy. I have a dim memory of standing with my father and some other men over the carcass of a rabid fox down in the country. I remember the icy feeling of being so close to something that had been so dangerous and now was so dead.

My grandfather had to have the treatment for someone who’d been bitten by a rabid animal, back when that involved up to 20 shots with a wickedly long needle into the muscles of the stomach. These days, the treatment has been reduced to four shots in the arm. It’s still painful, but far, far preferable to the agonizing death which is the certain fate of anyone who contracts rabies.

HB 1000 replaces all the troublesome red tape of the old law with more streamlined language:

“If a licensed veterinarian determines in writing that a rabies inoculation would compromise an animal’s health, then the animal shall be exempt from the rabies vaccination requirement until such time as a licensed veterinarian determines that such inoculation would not compromise such animal’s health. If a rabies inoculation is shown through the results of a vaccine titer — a blood sample to determine the level of immunity — to be medically unnecessary for said animal, then the animal shall be exempt from the rabies vaccination requirement indefinitely.”

The part about the titer seemed especially worrisome to the two veterinarians who commented on the bill. They didn’t say this, but it seems comparable to saying that someone who’s had a negative COVID test is indefinitely exempted from getting vaccinated.

Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, who is a veterinarian, was diplomatic in her discussion of the bill, but she made her key point very clearly.

“We need to keep in mind about rabies vaccines, that although they protect our dogs from rabies and our cats from rabies, they’re really to protect us from rabies,” the Gwinnett County legislator said. She urged the committee to ask the Department of Public Health to comment on the bill, in addition to veterinary groups.

Dr. Keri Riddick, executive director of the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association, gave the committee a list of problems her organization has with the bill, including the point that taking a pet across state lines might become a problem.

When Riddick finished, she got a few questions from the committee. Rep. Dominic LaRiccia just couldn’t help himself.

“See, my dog is Christian, and I wonder if we can get a religious exemption?” LaRiccia said.

He was joking, and Riddick took it that way. But pay close attention to how she responded.

“We have that come into our clinics all the time,” Riddick said with a laugh. So no matter how funny it seemed in a committee room at the Capitol, there really must be people who think Fido or Spot, or maybe Willow or Buttons, should have a religious exemption.

Gunter looked like a legislator who was only too happy to dispense with his obligation to a constituent and leave the bill in the hands of others to do with it whatever they wished. But however it came about and wherever it’s going, let’s be clear. This bill isn’t really about dogs and cats. It’s about us, and who we’re becoming.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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  1. Kelly February 8, 2022 3:36 am

    Just here to read other commentsReport

  2. Cynthia Tucker February 9, 2022 10:41 pm

    Yes, Tom. We’re becoming crazy people.
    Miss y’all, BTW.



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