The number of animals captured on the streets of Hillsborough as part of a rabies quarantine has continued to rise, public health officials say, leading many to believe that the quarantine probably won't end soon.
"We're still in the midst of it, and it's still growing," said Jordan Lewis, environmental administrator of the county's health department. "We'll probably see this (the quarantine) into next year."
The rabies quarantine was imposed Aug. 18 after a dramatic increase in rabies cases from the previous year was reported. Under the quarantine, dogs and cats found roaming free can be impounded. Owners must show proof that the animals have been inoculated in the past or must agree to have them inoculated before they are released.
Although many county residents have gotten the message and are keeping their animals confined, animal control officers continue to pick up large numbers of strays, said Rebeckah Sanchez, director of Hillsborough's Animal Services.
Last month, 2,500 animals were impounded, Sanchez said. In September 1991, 2,069 animals were impounded. In August, 2,688 animals were impounded. In August 1991, 2,454 animals were impounded.
Much of the increase is because of animals found in violation of the quarantine, Sanchez said, but another reason is that more people are leaving animals with the shelter voluntarily
They can't afford to have their pets vaccinated against rabies and licensed, she explained.
But many other pet owners have become more responsible because of the quarantine, Sanchez said, and are taking time and spending the money to get their animals inoculated.
"It's unfortunate that it would take something negative to do that, but that has been one good thing to happen," she said.
Seventeen rabid animals have been discovered in the county so far this year. The latest was Sept. 20, when a raccoon was found in Town 'N Country.
The quarantine will be lifted when health officials are sure the level of rabies in the wildlife population has gone down. They will gather data and test a sample group of animals before deciding, Lewis said.
In raccoons, for example, less than 5 percent of a sample group would have to test positive for the disease before authorities would lift the quarantine.