Bath city councilors formed a new rabies committee tasked with reaching out to surrounding towns to discuss a regional approach to combat rabies, but some councilors have disagreed over what that regional approach should look like.

Bath and some surrounding communities have been trying to counter rabies after a series of attacks on people and pets by rabid foxes in the area in recent years.

At a January city council meeting, Councilor Elizabeth Dingley said she believes the new committee’s mission is to “convince” leaders in surrounding towns to join Bath in conducting an oral rabies vaccine program, but other councilors say a wildlife vaccination push might not be a realistic solution.

“What I’ve read is that (oral rabies vaccine programs) are not recommended for urban and suburban areas,” Councilor Mary Ellen Bell said during the meeting. “I wasn’t seeing the evidence saying (an oral rabies vaccine program) is the thing we should be doing.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture airdrops fishmeal baits carrying raccoon rabies vaccinations in northeastern Maine to keep rabies from spreading into Canada. It’s a multi-year, multi-million dollar project that doesn’t lead to mass immunity to rabies in a target area.

City Council Chairperson Aaron Park said the new committee’s purpose isn’t to “advocate a program,” but instead, “explore what other communities are doing and whether they’re interested in moving forward with a (vaccine) program like this, although its efficacy isn’t clear.”


The new committee is comprised of councilors Dingley, Bell and Roo Dunn; three residents; City Manager Marc Meyers; Marketing and Communications Specialist Lindsey Goudreau and Animal Control Officer Jim McKnight. The committee has yet to meet or determine which three community members will join the group.

“Since the previous committee did the work of gathering the data we needed, now we need to see about implementing the oral rabies vaccine program,” Dingley told The Times Record. “We will need to get surrounding communities on board because this isn’t just a Bath thing, it’s a regional thing. If they need to be convinced, I’m happy to do that work. I’m sure that once they look at the data and see what a serious problem this is and how it’s life threatening to the citizens in the area, they won’t need to be convinced.”

Bath’s new committee was created after the city’s first rabies committee completed its goal of researching whether an oral rabies vaccine program is a viable option for Bath. That committee then disbanded.

According to Meyers, the initial rabies committee also organized vaccination clinics for pets and issued public education materials that informed residents ways they could discourage wildlife from coming near their homes, such as ensuring compost bins have secure covers.

USDA Public Affairs Specialist Tanya Espinosa said oral rabies vaccine programs would be both ineffective and expensive if used in individual urban communities like Bath.

“It is most effective to use (oral rabies vaccines) at a landscape scale to create a barrier rather than to ‘spot treat’ small, localized areas in response to an outbreak,” said Espinosa. “Urban areas remain a significant challenge for rabies management due to high animal populations and the influence of human behaviors such as feeding wildlife.”


In an August 2021 city council meeting, former councilor Raye Leonard told the council a vaccine program like what’s done in northern Maine would take three to five years and cost $150,000 annually.

Additionally, Espinosa said the vaccine baits used in the program are only approved for certain species. In the eastern U.S., the primary target of the vaccine program is raccoons, not foxes — the animal responsible for attacking over a dozen residents in 2019.

Rabies in Bath

In 2019, Bath received 72 suspicious animal calls. In all, 26 sick animals were killed by officers or citizens, and 16 animals tested positive for rabies in 2019, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The city also saw 18 fox attacks on people or pets, 11 of which resulted in a person being bitten or scratched.

Rabies is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal. It infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. Vaccines are 100% effective in combating the disease in humans, but rabies is fatal if left untreated.

In an attempt to stop the attacks, the city council voted in February 2020 to partner with the USDA to conduct a trapping program, which cost $26,611. The program was designed to reduce the density of animal species that may carry rabies, including gray fox, red fox, skunk and raccoon to eliminate the chance of a human and wild animal interaction.


During the 10-day program, 24 raccoons and four skunks were caught and euthanized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, according to the program report. Every wild animal caught in the traps were euthanized because the rabies test requires the animal’s brain tissue.

Dingley said Bath’s decision to conduct the trapping program instead of exploring a vaccination option is what spurred her to run for city council. Dingley said her goal is leading the city in conducting a long-term rabies vaccine program.

“The rabies problem in the Midcoast area is something I’ve devoted a lot of time and research to,” said Dingley. “My goal is definitely to get this under control. There has been some talk of alternatives, but this is a virus and it responds to vaccines. If you get bitten by a rabid animal and you develop the symptoms of rabies, it is invariably fatal. I think people need to start taking this a bit more seriously.”

Rabies cases at bay in Bath

Police Chief Andrew Booth said rabid animals in Bath seem to have all but disappeared over the last two years.

In 2021, Bath police received four calls about suspected rabid animals: two foxes and two bats. Police couldn’t find one fox when they responded, and the other was found to have mange, but was otherwise healthy. The two bats were caught and sent to be tested for rabies, but neither tested positive.


Police haven’t received any calls about suspected sick wildlife so far this year, said Booth.

“Rabies has been in Maine and it will continue to be in Maine. It’s endemic to the area and comes in waves, we’re just in a lull right now,” said Booth. “We like to think it ran its course through the area. People are still scared of it, but we’re not seeing it on the ground.”

Booth said the last Bath resident to be attacked by a rabid fox was retired Bath fire chief Norman Kenney in January 2020.

In 2021, Phippsburg had one bat and one grey fox test positive for rabies on Jan. 22 and Sept. 27, respectively, according to data from the USDA. Topsham had two gray foxes and one skunk test positive for rabies in September.

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