Health official: Owners should not remove a dog’s head for rabies testing

Crawford County sheriff’s Investigator James Hollis

Crawford County sheriff’s Investigator James Hollis

Though rare, a person could get rabies from a rabid animal’s saliva or brain tissue, which is why public health officials in Georgia recommend having a professional cut off the dead animal’s head for testing.

But that’s not what happened Friday in Crawford County.

Joe Goodwin said he was forced by Crawford County sheriff’s Investigator James Hollis to remove his dog’s head with a knife, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

Deputies were worried that Goodwin’s pit bull mix may have had rabies after it attacked a neighbor and lunged at a deputy, who then shot and killed the dog.

The Georgia Department of Public Health recommends a veterinarian or trained animal control officer remove an animal’s head for testing when rabies is suspected.

“Not only to provide a reliable specimen, but also for the protection of the person who removes the head,” DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam told The AJC. “That person should have a pre-exposure rabies vaccine.”

When possible, the health department recommends testing for rabies the wild animal a pet came into contact with or quarantining the domestic animal.

About 4 p.m Friday, a deputy showed up to the Wellington Drive home after a neighbor reported being bitten by Goodwin’s dog, Crawford County Sheriff Lewis Walker said in a news release.

“The victim suffered injuries to her leg and was transported to a local hospital by ambulance to seek medical attention,” Walker said.

When a deputy showed up at the property, “Big Boy,” Goodwin’s dog, had broken free from his runner, Goodwin said on social media.

“The same dog from the victim’s property ran toward the deputy in an aggressive manner, barking and growling,” Walker said.

When the dog lunged at the deputy, he was forced to defend himself and shot the dog, Walker said.

"We asked you to remove the dog's head ... and you're refusing, right?" Hollis could be heard saying.

Goodwin’s girlfriend called him to say the dog was dead in the yard near the mailbox.

At that point, Hollis told the couple they had to remove Big Boy’s head, put it in a bag and drive it immediately to the health department for rabies testing. Goodwin protested while he recorded much of the encounter and posted it to his Facebook page.

“We asked you to remove the dog’s head ... and you’re refusing, right?” Hollis could be heard saying.

Walker said Hollis has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

“The circumstances regarding the dog attack, the shooting, and the processing of the animal for state-mandated rabies testing is under investigation,” Walker said.

Goodwin said he now regrets removing his dog’s head and said he did so because he was afraid of being shot or taken to jail. The option to have a professional remove the head for a fee was something Goodwin didn’t think he could afford at the time.

“The Crawford County Health Department was notified, and the owner of the dog was advised, by that agency, of the state rabies testing requirements and options regarding the dog,” Walker said.

Typically, it takes about a day to get rabies test results.

Goodwin’s dog tested negative, Nydam said.

Though the option to do it yourself was offered to Goodwin, health officials say a trained professional should remove the head using gloves, face and eye protection, according to DPH.

Specific procedures for cutting are outlined by DPH, and by cutting off his dog's head in his yard without sterile equipment, Goodwin could have compromised the test.

“Only specimens received in good condition with at least two identifiable brain parts are approved for reporting test results,” the manual states.

In other news:

Family Dog’s Eye Bitten Out By Owner