Bath’s rabies committee said it plans on contacting surrounding communities in an effort to learn about the rabies problem in other municipalities and possibly establish a collective approach to addressing the issue.

Committee members updated the city council on their progress Wednesday.

Councilor Mary Ellen Bell told the council that the committee plans to contact surrounding municipalities and send a list of questions to learn about their rabies problems.

The questions, which have not yet been finalized, will ask other municipalities what they have done to address rabies locally, how they track human-wildlife interactions and whether they would be interested in a coordinated approach — such as a rabies wildlife vaccination program.

The committee has discussed the possibility of an oral rabies vaccine program in the past, however, some members and wildlife experts have questioned whether it would be an effective option for Bath and surrounding municipalities, as such vaccination efforts generally happen over wide areas.

Councilor Roo Dunn said that the committee has a lot to explore in regard to possibly implementing an oral rabies vaccine program, partly due to the cost and uncertainties about whether it would be a viable solution for the area.


“I need to be convinced that a rabies vaccine in the delivery method that has been described is effective,” Dunn said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program 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,” USDA Public Affairs Specialist Tanya Espinosa said in a previous interview. “Urban areas remain a significant challenge for rabies management due to high animal populations and the influence of human behaviors such as feeding wildlife.”

“My sense is that we need to get sort of a specialized approach,” Dunn said. Despite a 2020 USDA report that raised questions about the efficacy of the ORV program, the committee may establish a combined treatment approach that will include a lot of public education and outreach, Dunn said.

However, the committee’s next step in the process is to gather input from nearby municipalities about the scope of the rabies problem. Elizabeth Dingley, a councilor and the committee chair, said the committee plans to reach out to Phippsburg, Brunswick, West Bath, Freeport and possibly Topsham.

“It’s not just a Bath thing, it’s the whole Midcoast that’s affected,” Dingley said in an interview with The Times Record on Thursday. “If we go ahead with the (oral vaccination) plan that has been discussed — which I am absolutely in favor of — we’re going to have to get buy in from surrounding communities … We need to get other towns in on this.”


“This sounds like a very thoughtful and credible process to go forward and do some fact-finding with the counterparts in the different communities so that then you have a big picture of what their concerns are, what they think is possible and what they’re considering,” Councilor Phyllis Bailey said at the council meeting.

Rabid animal attacks have been a lingering problem in the Midcoast region, specifically in Bath. In 2019, Bath received 72 calls about suspicious animals. That year, 26 sick animals were killed by officers or citizens and 16 animals tested positive for rabies, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The city also recorded 18 fox attacks on people or pets — 11 of which resulted in a person getting bitten or scratched by an animal.

In 2020, the city council voted to devote $26,611 of its contingency budget to conduct a trapping program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 10-day program, which was conducted at the end of February 2020, was designed to reduce the population of rabies-carrying animals.

A total of 24 raccoons and four skunks were caught and euthanized by the USDA and MDIFW. The animals were euthanized in order to test for rabies, which requires examination of the animal’s brain tissue.

Peter Owen, Bath’s then-city manager, called the program an “extreme measure,” at the time. “But clearly from the numbers we’re faced with some extreme events. With that we feel the obligation to bring something forward that is extreme,” he said.

Rabid animal attacks seem to have decreased over the last couple of years, however, according to Bath Police Chief Andrew Booth. Last year, 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.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.