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Rabies is a deadly disease that can affect all mammals, including humans and their companion dogs and cats. While rabies deaths are rare in the United States, tens of thousands of people die each year from rabies, primarily in Africa and Asia. Almost 99% of rabies cases in humans are transmitted by dogs. The rabies vaccine is safe and effective against this fatal virus. In this episode, Dr. Jess Torok joins us to discuss this preventable disease in pets and her work with Mission Rabies in Tanzania.

Welcome, Dr. Jess Torok

Dr. Lancellotti: Welcome, everyone, to today’s episode of Your Vet Wants You To Know. Today, we’re going to dive a little bit deeper into rabies. We talked a little bit about it earlier, with Dr. Barland, regarding puppy vaccines and kitten vaccines, but I’m joined by Dr. Jess Torok, who is going to dive in and give us a deeper look into this disease and why it’s so important, not just here in the United States, but internationally, as it affects both pets and people. Welcome, Dr. Torok. 

[00:01:32] Dr. Torok: Thank you. 

[00:01:33] Dr. Lancellotti: Can you give our listeners a little bit of your background and tell us how you became a veterinarian, what your interests are, and how this particular topic affects you?

[00:01:43] Dr. Torok: Absolutely. I was raised in North Dakota in a pretty small town, and my brain said I want to be a marine biologist, so I decided to join the Navy. I spent three years in the Navy, I made my way to Lafayette, Indiana, and was accepted to vet school at Purdue. I was a 2008 grad and then did an internship at Purdue, post doc. I moved to Chicago, in 2012, to take a medical director position of a five doctor corporate practice. I worked there for about three years. Then, I wanted to open my own practice, but they wouldn’t renegotiate my noncompete, so I did some ‘house call’ practice for a couple of years while I looked for a location and got financing and things together. I wanted to do something to give back to the world before I opened a business, because I knew that once I opened this business, my time would be very committed and I wouldn’t be able to take two or three weeks away to go do philanthropic work. So, I was introduced to a group called Mission Rabies, which is a wonderful group. I joined them in Arusha, Tanzania, to administer rabies vaccines to pets in that area. There are a large number of children that are still infected and die from rabies, in developing countries, every day. I knew I’d be gone for at least those three weeks, so I got everything together and I set out to help eradicate rabies, as my way of giving back to world. That trip ended up taking some wild turns, but we’ll tell you about that near-death experience in another episode. 

[00:03:13] Dr. Lancellotti: I’m looking forward to our listeners being able to hear the story that you have to tell about your trip to Tanzania- not only about your experience with the people there, but also with your own personal health experience. If our listeners want to take a moment to just hit subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to Your Vet Wants You To Know, Dr. Torok will be telling us all about what happened during her time in Tanzania. And you’re celebrating a pretty important anniversary this month. Is that correct?

[00:03:42] Dr. Torok: We are. My practice has officially been open for five years. It was really fun- on Wednesday of last week, my practice manager and I celebrated our official anniversary. She and I were there before clients came in, so we sang a little duet to “it’s a versary,” during our morning of rounds, just to lighten everybody up and get the day started.

[00:04:05] Dr. Lancellotti: That’s great. Congratulations. What a lot of hard work, and a big effort that you’ve been through, to make it this far.

Jess Torok teaching children
Dr. Jess Torok teaches children about caring for bite wounds while in Tanzania with Mission Rabies.

Can I Get Rabies if I am Bitten?

Dr. Lancellotti: I want to talk a little bit about your experience with rabies, and in particular, any pet that comes to mind when you think about the importance of rabies vaccinations.

[00:04:23] Dr. Torok: The example that I chose for today is one of many- what people don’t really expect to be part of a daily life with a veterinarian. In 2018, about a year after we opened the practice, a good Samaritan brought in a stray cat that had been struck by a vehicle, somewhere near Lakeshore Drive in downtown Chicago. A Chicago vet had seen it, taken radiographs, x-rays, and noted that the cat had a fractured pelvis. So, this good Samaritan found us for a consultation for pelvic fracture repair. This kitty’s name was St. Patrick, because she found him on St. Patty’s day. He was a little Siamese-looking guy, but he was really ‘ouchie.’ Any time we touched him, he’d kinda shift a little bit. You could just tell that his pupils would dilate. He was just really uncomfortable. We had him maintained on oral narcotic, and after that, I was able to do his physical exam. I took off the E collar that he was wearing (Elizabethan collar to prevent him from licking or biting himself). We finished his physical exam, but when I went to reposition him to put him back in his cage, I must have just moved him slightly the wrong way. He just became acutely painful and reactively bit me. Of course, it’s not unusual for a painful animal to defend themselves that way. He pierced almost full thickness through my left ring finger. I was anxious because I’m like, “Okay, well. Now this cat’s a stray. We have no idea what his vaccine status is. Had he had any prior rabies exposure while he was wandering the streets of Chicago?” We’ve got rats and all kinds of wildlife that sort of infiltrate the city. I was lucky enough to have been fully vaccinated for rabies while I was in vet school- which is pretty common for most of us. Then, as a requirement for participation to my trip with Mission Rabies to Tanzania, they requested and required an adequate rabies titer- to make certain that I had protective antibodies against rabies, since we were going to be working in a rabies-endemic area. A year before I got this cat bite from a stray cat, even though I probably still had adequate antibodies, I knew that postexposure prophylaxis was still indicated, because we didn’t know the animal’s history. 

[00:06:31] Dr. Lancellotti: I think that’s one thing that people don’t realize. We get our pets vaccinated for rabies, but as veterinary professionals, we have to be vaccinated against rabies, as well, because of the risk of things like this- a cat bite. 

[00:06:44] Dr. Torok: Right. And I remember the rabies vaccinations for us (I got mine in 2009) was a series of three. They were very specifically timed and they just had everybody in our class filter through at the same time and get our inoculations. I knew though that I needed to get a rabies vaccine booster for postexposure prophylaxis. According to the CDC website, I was supposed to get that booster within 24 hours of exposure. So after the cat bit me, I ended up going to a local urgent care because cat bites frequently get infected. I do a lot of surgery and I knew my hands are super important. It was interesting to me that this medical doctor did not have any familiarity with what was required for human postexposure prophylaxis for rabies. He treated the wound and said, “I don’t know what to tell you.” I said, “Well, I think I need a rabies booster. Do you guys have rabies vaccines here? And he says, “No. We don’t.” So then, I spent several hours on the phone, calling various pharmacies and clinics- even vaccine clinics that specialize in getting you prepped to travel outside the country. Eventually, I did find one local pharmacy. Keep in mind, I’m in the suburbs of Chicago. It’s not like I’m in some remote area. It was very difficult to locate. And when I got to the pharmacy to receive my vaccination, I was informed that the particular brand that they happened to carry wasn’t covered by my insurance and would cost me about $500. 

[00:08:09] Dr. Lancellotti: Yikes. 

[00:08:10] Dr. Torok: So the pharmacy technician asked me, “Did you still want to get the shot today?” And of course, she didn’t know my situation. And I’m all in my head, panicking. I’m thinking like, “I’ll pay $500 to not die from rabies. You’d bet, I still want the shot, today! 

[00:08:25] Dr. Lancellotti: Worth it. 

[00:08:25] Dr. Torok: Right? It had already been 14 hours, and it took me so long to find one that I didn’t have time to start calling around to try to find another. Luckily, I’m a business owner, so I could reimburse myself that cost out of my business account. But for an average person, I imagine that would be pretty expensive- especially, considering that if you’re not already vaccinated for rabies, the postexposure prophylaxis can be anywhere from 4-8 injections. If you multiply that times 500, that’s quite expensive. 

[00:08:57] Dr. Lancellotti: You mentioned that it doesn’t get covered by insurance. I had that same experience when I was starting vet school. The veterinary school didn’t offer the rabies vaccine, so we had to get that done before starting school, on our own. And I was living in the suburbs of New York City, at the time. I was like, “I don’t know where to get this.” My regular primary care physician did not have it. So, I had to find someone like 30 or 40 minutes away from me, in New Jersey- just a random family practice that happened to be able to get it for me. But it was the same thing. The insurance didn’t cover it. It was a series of three injections and they were $600 each. So, I waited a lot of extra tables to be able to be protected against rabies. But the urgent care doctor did not know that postexposure prophylaxis was really important. For pet owners that are listening, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’ve been bitten by an animal whose rabies vaccine status is unknown, it’s really important for you to advocate for yourself and let them know, “Hey, there’s a risk that I might have been exposed to rabies. I need some help being able to get those injections,” so that you you don’t die. It’s something that we’re going to talk about here. This is a fatal disease.

Dr. Torok with vaccinated puppies and other Mission Rabies volunteers
Dr. Torok with vaccinated puppies and other Mission Rabies volunteers

What is Rabies?

Dr. Lancellotti: We spend a lot of time learning about rabies in veterinary school, but for pet owners listening today, can you give them a brief description of what exactly rabies is?

[00:10:21] Dr. Torok: Absolutely. Rabies is a fatal zoonotic infection that targets the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nervous tissue). Zoonotic means the infection is passed from animals to humans. It’s present in animal saliva and it’s most commonly transmitted by an animal bite.

[00:10:41] Dr. Lancellotti: And when you say it’s present in animal saliva, what animals are at risk for rabies? Are there some animals who are at an increased risk? 

[00:10:50] Dr. Torok: Absolutely. The rule of thumb that we can always remember is that only mammals can get rabies. We don’t see rabies and birds, lizards, or other non-mammal species. Wild animals can be carriers of rabies. If you think about things that might be cruising through your backyard- a raccoon, skunk, possum, coyote, deer, fox, etc. One of the major sources of exposure to humans are bats. So if you’ve got a bat in your attic or there’s a bat in your house, it’s a really good idea to not try to capture it, but to call animal control to come out and capture that animal for you. But get out of that space! Close doors. Trap the bat into a single room, if you can, but get out of that room. If anybody in your family is bitten by a bat, you definitely want animal control to come and get that animal. They’re going to test the bat for rabies, specifically, to coincide with your postexposure prophylaxis. 

[00:11:43] Dr. Lancellotti: I think that’s one thing that’s hard, as well. Sometimes, those bat bites are so small that people may not even realize it’s happened. If you find yourself in a situation where you wake up and there’s a bat in your house, and you’ve been sleeping in the same room that the bat has been flying around, there’s the potential that you’ve been bitten while you’ve been sleeping and you just don’t know about it. Having that postexposure prophylaxis is really helpful if there’s any concern that the animal may be infected with rabies. 

[00:12:14] Dr. Torok: Yeah, for sure. And then, we also have domestic pets- the animals that we are more commonly in contact with- dogs, cats, horses, cows, and rabbits. Any of those mammals that we would keep as pets can certainly be carriers for rabies, as well. And since we humans are also mammals, we are also susceptible to rabies infections. 

Dr. Torok helps vaccinate a cat in Tanzania during a Mission Rabies trip.

What are the Signs of Rabies?

[00:12:38] Dr. Lancellotti: If an animal has become infected with rabies, what signs might they show? 

[00:12:43] Dr. Torok: It’s really similar to a lot of other disease processes. You get a fever, maybe a little headache, kind of lethargic, kind of weak, body aches, etc. You might just think that you have a cold or the flu, or nowadays we might think we have COVID-19. Unfortunately, as that disease advances, it does begin to attack the brain and can lead to what’s referred to as ‘mad dog’ behavior. When you think about the movie Old Yeller, the dogs get really agitated. They’re barking a lot. Excessive drooling. They may not have appropriate mentation. They look a little bit confused. They’re aggressive. They’re just kind of out of their minds. They don’t really know what they’re doing. The challenge is that it’s a really deadly disease, and if it’s untreated, it leads to death in a matter of days (after those symptoms first appear). So even though it may initially seem like a cold or a flu, as it progresses without that postexposure prophylaxis, it begins to affect that central nervous system more intensely. 

[00:13:44] Dr. Lancellotti: I remember watching videos (in our public health courses in veterinary school) of places in Africa, where there are people (more often) that develop rabies and it is awful. This is a heartbreaking, fatal, awful disease, so if this is something that there’s any risk of being exposed to, we want these people to be treated right away.

Dr. Torok holds vaccinated puppies during a Mission Rabies trip.
Dr. Torok holds vaccinated puppies during a Mission Rabies trip.

How is Rabies Diagnosed?

Dr. Lancellotti: If we have suspicion for rabies, in pets, how would this be definitively diagnosed? 

[00:14:15] Dr. Torok: It’s different, the way we diagnose things in animals versus people. In animals, rabies diagnoses can only be made postmortem (after they’ve died). So, in order to definitively diagnose rabies in an animal, we need actual brain tissue samples. Ideally, we get samples from two different parts of the brain- the brain stem and the cerebellum. The test, itself, only takes a couple of hours to run, but it takes time to physically prepare the samples. Depending on where they’re going, whether a public health lab or a veterinary diagnostic lab- if it’s going to a veterinary diagnostic lab, we send it in and that skull is disassembled, and the brain tissue is removed and tested. But most of those results take 24 to 72 hours, after the specimen has been collected, because it has to be shipped, prepped, and read by a pathologist. 72 hours is still pretty quick. Postexposure prophylaxis can be started at that point, or any point after exposure. Any time a human has been bitten, we want to make sure that we get that testing done as quickly as possible.

[00:15:22] Dr. Lancellotti: It may be a good idea to get that first postexposure prophylaxis vaccine done, but after the testing is submitted and read, they may not need the additional 5-7 injections if it comes back negative for rabies. 

[00:15:36] Dr. Torok: Correct. Diagnosis in humans is pretty different. We actually check saliva, blood, spinal fluid, and skin biopsies, including hair follicles at the nape of your neck. Serum and spinal fluid are tested for antibodies (our body’s natural immune response), and the skin biopsy specimens actually look for rabies antigen, which is a physical protein that’s part of the virus, itself. It can be located at the base of the hair follicles, to see if the viral inclusions are actually present in those hair follicles. It’s frightening, to me, to think that somebody could take a piece of my skin and find rabies living in the hair follicles.

How Can I Protect Against Rabies?

[00:16:20] Dr. Lancellotti: What can pet owners do to help protect their pets against rabies? And if they’ve come in contact with a potentially infected animal (like a bat in their home), what can they do at that point? 

[00:16:31] Dr. Torok: The very best way to prevent your pet from getting rabies is to vaccinate your pet. It is amazing. It’s an almost 100% survival rate reported in animals that have been appropriately vaccinated. We know, through years of data collection, that most pets (dogs and cats) vaccinated after 16 weeks of age, with a single rabies inoculation, will maintain an adequate antibody level for about a year, following that vaccination. So if your puppy or kitten is vaccinated when they’re about four months old, in a year and four months, they would get an additional booster. That second booster, when they’re about a year and four months old, will generally keep them with an adequate tighter or antibody level for an additional three years. Vaccination is extremely effective. 

What Happens If My Pet is Exposed to Rabies?

[00:17:17] Dr. Lancellotti: If your pet has been exposed to rabies, what would be the next steps that the pet owner should take? 

[00:17:24] Dr. Torok: If they’ve been exposed to rabies, and they’re currently vaccinated, they should be vaccinated again immediately, or as soon as practically possible- just like we do for a human who’s already vaccinated. You get a single booster. Then, they need to be kept under the owner’s control. We call that a rabies observation for 45 days. That means that if they’re under an owner’s control, they shouldn’t be venturing out into the general public. They shouldn’t be going to dog parks, doggy daycare, boarding facilities, pet stores, etc. They should only be kept in the owner’s immediate property. Now, if an animal is overdue for a rabies vaccination booster, if you have documentation that they’ve ever had a rabies vaccine before, it’s the same kind of deal- single inoculation for postexposure in 45 days of observation. If that animal has never had a rabies vaccine or it’s not been documented, or it’s lapsed in its timeframe (if you were supposed to get it 2-3 months ago), some municipalities require that your pet be held for 10 days in quarantine, with a veterinary exam each day, to determine whether or not any signs of rabies are emerging. And that’s a pretty costly expenditure. 

[00:18:30] Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah. Ten days of hospitalization and observation can definitely add up, but it’s also an emotional cost, as well- wondering, “What’s going to happen with my animal over these ten days? Are they going to get sick? Are they going to be okay?” It’s just so easy to vaccinate and prevent against this fatal, deadly disease.

Which Animals Are At Risk for Rabies?

Dr. Lancellotti: Are there some animals that are at an increased risk, based on their environment and what situations they’re in? 

[00:18:59] Dr. Torok: Sure. As we talked about earlier, mammals, of any kind, are at risk. But animals at an increased risk would be those who have routine exposure to wildlife, especially if they’re not vaccinated. It’s part of the reason there’s so much endemic rabies in the area where I was, in Tanzania. The living situation there is just very different from ours. They don’t really have clearly delineated property barriers. There are property lines, and those are often visually present, but there aren’t physical barriers between properties, such as a fence or a road. As a result, a lot of animals wander between various households, throughout the day. Your friend’s dog, down the street, will just wander into your yard for a minute. And I guess you don’t really know which kind of animals or wildlife that they’ve encountered in between those two spaces. And families frequently have their dogs follow along, as they go out to work in the banana plantation, or to tend to their livestock. Those animals are part of their farm. They work. So again, those animals are at really high risk, especially if they’re not vaccinated, which is not a common practice in those areas. Veterinary care just isn’t commonly available, and that’s part of the reason that those areas and spaces are targeted by Mission Rabies- to get feet on the ground and vaccines in hand. We go from “house to house,” sometimes walking 20 kilometers a day. And we might have 11 teams at a time, all out doing the same thing in a concentrated area, trying to get as many dogs and cats vaccinated as we can. 

Local dogs in Tanzania
Local dogs in Tanzania.

[00:20:26] Dr. Lancellotti: For people who have been exposed to these animals, who may have contracted rabies, you already described your difficulty in getting the postexposure prophylaxis when you got bit. Talk a little bit about what that might be like for people living in places like Tanzania. 

[00:20:41] Dr. Torok: It’s really challenging for them to get postexposure prophylaxis. Not only does the postexposure include rabies vaccination, it also includes a rabies immunoglobulin treatment. Families simply can’t afford it. They can’t find the means of transportation to get from their remote areas, where they live, to a more urban area to receive treatment or postexposure prophylaxis. As a result, we see a lot of heads of households (like the father figure, who may be the primary breadwinner) out working and get exposed to rabies, by his own pet or another animal in the area. And as a result, if they can’t access the postexposure prophylaxis, that family member may die and end up leaving that family very devastated, financially and emotionally.

Key Points about Rabies

[00:21:31] Dr. Lancellotti: Dr. Torok, what are some of the big takeaway points that you want pet owners to remember? 

[00:21:36] Dr. Torok: The biggest takeaway is in the US, a majority of our domesticated animals are vaccinated for rabies. And as a result, we have a really low human exposure rate and we have relatively easy access to postexposure prophylaxis. So, we don’t have many deaths from rabies, in the United States, on a yearly basis. I think, statistically, by the CDC, it’s only one or two cases a year, in humans. In developing countries, very few domesticated animals are vaccinated. There’s a high human exposure rate, with difficult or limited access to postexposure prophylaxis, resulting in a large number of human deaths. Compared to the average of two human deaths per year in the entire United States, Tanzania has about 1500 human deaths from rabies, per year. It’s exponentially greater. It’s easy for us to obtain rabies vaccines for our pets in the US, so there’s been some sort of mixed information about what an effective rabies vaccine is. “Maybe because my dog is only three pounds, it should get a half dose.” Unfortunately, that’s simply not true. Immunology is based on stimulation of the immune system and it has nothing to do with our body weight. If you think about humans who are receiving a vaccination for the flu or any other illness- me, as a relatively petite person and a quite large football player- we’re going to get the same shot. Don’t be misguided or misled about giving a half dose of a rabies vaccine. Don’t skip rabies vaccination. Rabies vaccines that we have now are really safe, they have a very low reactivity rate, and they’re almost 100% effective in preventing rabies. The reason that our incidence in the United States is so low is because our domestic pet population is so well-protected that it’s really difficult for wildlife to transmit it to our pets. We (as humans) are not commonly exposed, so vaccination saves lives. 

Kevin, a driver with Mission Rabies, a local child, and several vaccinated puppies.
Kevin, a driver with Mission Rabies, a local child, and several vaccinated puppies.

More About Mission Rabies

[00:23:34] Dr. Lancellotti: Dr. Torok, I want to give you some time to talk a little bit more about Mission Rabies. It sounds like this is a group that you had a really great experience working with, and I’d like our pet owners and listeners to have some more information. Maybe, if they’re interested in supporting the project, they can reach out.

[00:23:52] Dr. Torok: Yeah. Mission Rabies is a UK-based company. They do vaccination campaigns in quite a few different locations, throughout the year. This July, they’ll be vaccinating in Uganda. There are also campaigns to India, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Cambodia, and Ghana. This group is really well-organized and very easy to communicate and work with. On each campaign, they coordinate with local lodging, local veterinarians, and rescue groups, to ensure that we have meals, a safe place to sleep, and interaction with local teams of animal care professionals. They assist us with translation, navigation, and providing the vaccinations, themselves. Oftentimes, they are donated by our commonly sourced vaccine companies. It was a really fulfilling experience. I really can’t wait to go again, regardless of the crazy that happened while I was there. That was coincidental. I still correspond with some of the veterinarians and animal care workers from my trip, in 2017. In fact, I sent a message to one of the veterinarians who works with an animal hospital- just last night, we sent messages. It’s just great to see all of these people, from all parts of the world, really cohesively working together to eradicate rabies in these developing countries. It’s just an honor to be part of their team.

[00:25:09] Dr. Lancellotti: It sounds like it was an, overall, amazing experience for you. I’m glad you got that support network that you built, while you were there, and that you still keep in touch with everybody. If you can send me some information on where people can reach out to Mission Rabies, and I’ll have that posted in the show notes, so that pet owners can get more information there. And maybe, if they want to make some donations to Mission Rabies, they can certainly go ahead and do that. It’s a wonderful cause. 

[00:25:33] Dr. Torok: They also invite non-veterinarians to participate in the trip. In fact, some of the veterinarians that I worked with, when I was there, had brought a spouse or an adult child. You don’t have to have any previous veterinary medical knowledge to be a capable pair of hands to help out.

[00:25:50] Dr. Lancellotti: Wow. That’s amazing. There you go. If you’re looking for a unique experience, and a way to give back in the world, Mission Rabies might be a good fit for you. Is there anything more that you want to talk about, regarding your potential rabies exposure with St. Patrick? 

[00:26:06] Dr. Torok: It just made me acutely more aware of the risk that we, as vets and vet nurses, encounter on a daily basis. We don’t get bitten often, but we do get bitten. Unfortunately, it’s part of our jobs and it’s not a pleasant part of the job. But that increased risk, especially with animals of unknown origin, was really driven home for me with that experience. It’s made me a bit more cautious, it makes my reflexes a little faster, but the same could be said about animal control officers, local sheriffs, police departments, etc. They’re often responsible for catching or containing these stray pets, until an owner or shelter space can be secured, so it’s not just veterinarians, vet nurses, and people in our profession who are potentially exposed. We also have some other public servants who are in that line, daily. So, I guess the moral of the story is that all domestic pets should be vaccinated for rabies, so we can keep this deadly disease from our human population. That spillover is scary. And the more pets that are vaccinated, the fewer chances of it being transmitted to humans.

[00:27:05] Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah, absolutely. I strongly agree. If you want more information about Mission Rabies or rabies in general, we’ll have some links on the website, yourvetwantsyoutoknow.com. You can also see some really great pictures of Dr. Torok, from her trip to Tanzania, as well as her playing guitar.

Dr. Lancellotti: Tell me a little bit about your music career.

[00:27:27] Dr. Torok: I actually thought that I was going to start college as a music major. And after about three semesters, I realized it was extremely competitive. And no one is happy for your successes because that means they didn’t get the part. So I shifted gears a little bit, and really refocused on undergrad courses for vet medicine. But I still play out. When I moved to Chicago, I met a group of people who were pretty active in the open-mic community. I befriended them and began to play open-mics with them, routinely. I took some lessons. I took some classes. I like to say it works the other side of my brain. 

[00:28:02] Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah. This is more for you than for an actual career. 

[00:28:06] Dr. Torok: Yeah. 

[00:28:08] Dr. Lancellotti: We’re going to be talking a little bit more about your experience in Tanzania and what you went through, personally. For those pet owners who want to hear more about this experience and this harrowing health crisis that Dr. Torok went through, please be sure to hit subscribe, so that you can listen to the story. That will be coming out shortly after this “rabies” episode. 

Scratching the Itch

[00:28:28] Dr. Lancellotti: I want to take a moment to end the episode with a segment that I call Scratching The Itch. This is a segment that is designed to highlight something- whether it’s a human interest story, a product, a website- whatever it is that just provides relief or makes you feel good. Hence, scratching the itch. Dr. Torok, do you have a ‘scratching the itch’ for our pet owners, today? 

[00:28:48] Dr. Torok: I do. My itch scratcher is scuba diving. The one thing about animal life that’s really difficult to access are animals in the ocean. We aren’t meant to be underwater that long. I got scuba certified about 25 years ago, and there’s really nothing more relaxing than just floating weightlessly in the water and looking over the horizon of a coral reef- and here comes a great big manta ray or a sea turtle. And they just don’t care that you’re there. It’s literally like floating in nothing. I like to be an observer in their world. I like to advocate for increased protection for these special animals, especially sea turtles, because they’re endangered. There is an organization called The Turtle Conservancy and that’s an organization that channels all of its efforts and funds into preservation of this endangered species. There’s a link included, for your reference, if you wish to adopt a turtle. My staff adopted a turtle for me for my birthday, one year. 

[00:29:41] Dr. Lancellotti: Aww. That’s really cute. 

[00:29:43] Dr. Torok: It was really awesome. I got a sticker. And apparently, some of these turtles that are mostly focused in the Caribbean (Gulf of Mexico) have trackers on them, so I could actually watch where my turtle would go and see where its travel patterns were within the space between Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. Every bit of information we obtain about the species helps us to better protect them from the encroachment of human population and the impacts that our society has on wildlife. So the Turtle Conservancy is a really great group. 

[00:30:13] Dr. Lancellotti: Did you give your adopted turtle a name? 

[00:30:18] Dr. Torok: I think its name was Sally. And we didn’t really give it a new name, we just said, “Okay, that’s her name.” Turtles are just amazing creatures. They’d live for a really long time, if we don’t mess with them, so I’d love to see us humans give them a little more birth and care. 

[00:30:33] Dr. Lancellotti: Well, thank you very much for coming on the show and talking about rabies, today. This is a really important episode, and I’m so thankful for you to share your time and your experience with everyone. Thank you very much. Dr. Torok.

[00:30:44] Dr. Torok: You’re welcome. Thank you. 

[00:30:47] Dr. Lancellotti: And for everyone listening, I look forward to your next visit with Your Vet Wants You To Know.

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