Other Views

Saturday, February 21, 1997

Guide dogs should be
spared from quarantine

Lawsuit settlement results in strict rules
that will keep rabies out and let blind visitors
and residents leave and return without
giving up their dogs

By Michael A. Lilly

QUARANTINE has been a "Berlin Wall" for blind citizens. It has been their greatest barrier to travel in the United States. For, unlike sighted travelers, quarantine has prevented blind Americans from visiting or leaving Hawaii with their guide dogs.

However, an historic settlement reached on Jan. 14 paves the way for blind guide- dog users to travel to or from Hawaii without having to quarantine their dogs for up to four months.

The settlement resolves a class-action lawsuit that I filed in 1993 on behalf of blind guide-dog users residing in Hawaii and on the mainland.

The lawsuit alleged that the quarantine violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by effectively denying access to Hawaii by those blind citizens who are dependent upon guide dogs for mobility.

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice intervened in the litigation in support of our position.

The case was initially dismissed, but was reinstated by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996.

The 9th Circuit held that quarantine violated the ADA by depriving blind guide-dog users of "meaningful access" to Hawaii. The case was remanded for trial on whether our proposed vaccine-based modifications to quarantine for guide dogs were "reasonable."

Some background of Hawaii's rabies-prevention program is important to understand the case.

As a fifth-generation kamaaina, I am as concerned about maintaining Hawaii's rabies-free status as any of our citizens. We are the only state that has remained totally free of the dreaded disease.

To prevent rabies from coming into the islands, the Territory of Hawaii established a 120-day quarantine in 1912. At that time, quarantine was the only known method of preventing the introduction of rabies, short of totally banning the importation of animals.

However, rabies vaccines developed in recent years have demonstrated nearly 100 percent protection against the rabies virus. In one study, a state expert concluded that the probability of a vaccinated dog exposed to the virus becoming rabid was less than one in 6.9 million.

In 1996, the state also consulted a group of rabies experts to assess Hawaii's animal quarantine program. As part of the consultation, the state conducted a risk analysis which found that a 30-day quarantine for vaccinated animals would be four times safer than the old 120-day quarantine.

Thus, the state reduced the quarantine to 30 days for vaccinated animals last year.

There is also extensive evidence that guide dogs are less susceptible to rabies than other animals. They are specially selected, closely supervised and medically cared for -- from birth to death.

They are never allowed to run free, but are always under the control of their owners. No guide dog has ever contracted rabies.

And, in a risk analysis, the state concluded that there was no appreciable difference in risk between an exemption for vaccinated guide dogs and Hawaii's new 30-day quarantine.

For these and other reasons, numerous internationally recognized rabies experts have correctly advised the state since the mid-1980s that they did not object to a special quarantine exemption for vaccinated guide dogs. They included Dr. Charles Rupprecht, current chief for the Centers for Disease Control rabies branch; Dr. George Baer, former chief of the Centers for Disease Control rabies branch; Dr. William Falconer, former state veterinarian; Dr. Deborah Briggs, director of the Kansas State University rabies laboratory; and Dr. Alex Wandeler, chief of the Canadian rabies unit.

It was against this background that the state of Hawaii, the Department of Justice and my plaintiffs agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit.

Under the settlement, the state has agreed to adopt new rules for guide dogs that substantially mirror those which were recently implemented in New Zealand and Australia.

The new rules will exempt guide dogs from quarantine under these general requirements:

The state must be informed where the guide dog will be staying at least 24 hours before arrival.

The guide dog must be currently vaccinated for rabies, have an identifying microchip implanted, be a graduate of an approved guide-dog school, have had at least two antibody tests demonstrating protection against rabies, and be accompanied by a health certificate.

On arrival, the guide dog will have blood drawn for another antibody test and a physical exam by a state veterinarian.

During the first 30 days of arrival, the guide dog may reside at an approved Hawaii hotel or a private residence. The guide dog and its user may travel freely anywhere in the state as long as they do not reside or come in contact with carnivores except other guide dogs.

For a guide dog remaining in Hawaii 30 days or longer, another physical exam must be completed on or about the 30th day.

The new rules should take effect sometime this spring after a public comment period and final approval by the Department of Agriculture and Governor Cayetano.

The local federal District Court and the class-action plaintiffs will then have an opportunity to accept or reject the settlement as a final resolution of the lawsuit.

THE settlement is right for every citizen. It fully recognizes the state's legitimate need to ensure that Hawaii remains rabies-free. But it also guarantees the right of blind guide-dog users to travel to and from Hawaii with a minimum of restrictions.

I personally thank the state Department of Agriculture (in particular, Dr. Calvin Lum), the attorney general's office (Margery Bronster, Charlie Fell, Heidi Rian and Liz Schaller), and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (especially Bill Lee, Ed Miller and Sheila Foran) for making this historic settlement a reality.

Michael A. Lilly is a partner in the Honolulu law firm
of Ning, Lilly & Jones, and represents the class-action plaintiffs
in the quarantine litigation.

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