For the first time in three decades, the town of Milton will host a rabies vaccine clinic to help register all dogs before the state-mandated April 1 deadline.

The effort, to be held March 17 at the fire station, is a collaboration between Milton’s public safety and town clerk departments, public safety director Taylor Yeates said.

The planning started six months ago when town clerk Sheryl Prince and assistant treasurer Paulette LaFond noticed the town’s dog registrations had plummeted since the 1990s.

Back then, 1,500 dogs were registered among Milton’s 8,400 residents, recalled LaFond, a 45-year town employee. In 2017, with at least 2,000 more people living in town, only 810 dogs got tags, town data shows.

It led Yeates to ask, “Where did 800 dogs go?”

Considering statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation show Americans own an average 1.6 dogs, Yeates said Milton could be home to over 2,500 dogs with only a third of them registered.

Yeates decide to pair the registration drive with a rabies clinic since tags are a prerequisite for the vaccine. Milton Veterinary Hospital owner Nancy Franz – also a volunteer on Milton Rescue – will be on hand to administer the shots.

The effort is important to Yeates, who grew up working with animals on his aunt and uncle’s farm and is a dog owner himself.

“These kind of things are interesting to me and dear to the heart,” he said. “A little bit of a pet project.”

Pet project indeed – but it’s also an initiative that fulfills Yeates’ goals around public safety. In the 200-plus interactions Milton police and animal control officers had with dogs in 2017, about 90 percent were with unregistered dogs, Yeates said.

If that dog bites someone, it must be quarantined at the pound for 10 days while
the victim is screened for rabies. If the disease is suspected, the victim has to pay up to $1,200 for vaccines, often out of pocket, Yeates said.

Dog bites are rare, however, and it’s more common for officers to find unregistered dogs at large. Without tags, “that makes our job more difficult reuniting dogs,” Yeates said.

It also comes at a cost: The town pays the kennel a per-dog fee – plus a quarterly stipend – and the owner is usually fined.

In 2017, 13 dogs spent a total 41 days at the pound, data shows. The town also surrendered four dogs and one cat to the humane society that year, also at cost.

Besides all that, Yeates sees the vaccine and registration as common sense. Rabies is both 100 percent deadly and preventable, he said, and the clinic offers a combination vaccine and registration for cheaper than doing each separately.

Prince, the town clerk, assumes registrations have dropped simply because people don’t know it’s a state law and is required every year. Others have different misconceptions.

“I got a call that said, ‘My dog never goes outside,’” Prince said. “They think [only] if your dog goes outside, they need to be registered, but that’s not the case.”

Assistant treasurer LaFond said many people adopt rescue dogs, like the ones delivered here after Hurricane Harvey in Texas. If these dogs experienced a traumatic event, it could increase the likelihood of bites, she suggested.

Though the push is to register dogs before April 1, cats are also welcome at the clinic for vaccines, as long as they’re in a carrier; dogs must be leashed. The event starts at 11 a.m. and runs until 1 p.m. or until everyone is line is helped, Yeates said.

“Just show up, and we’ll be there,” he said. “The more animals that are vaccinated, the better.”

You can register your pet at the town of Milton’s clinic on Saturday, March 17 at the Milton fire station for $9 for spayed/neutered pets or $13 for intact pets. Rabies vaccines cost $20, or pay $25 for both. All are payable by cash or check. Contact Taylor Yeates at 891-8025 for more information.