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I Reiterate, Chris Collins: Rats!

I moved to Western New York in 1998 after graduating from veterinary school in Louisiana. As a young professional, I was uncertain what the challenges of private practice would be. Some of my first impressions of the region were of the Erie County Department of Health. I volunteered at the free rabies vaccination clinics for cats and dogs jointly sponsored by the DOH and my Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. I took advantage of the county’s program to test rabies titers on high-risk individuals (such as veterinarians and their staffs) and provide affordable rabies vaccines to those who were not yet protected against this deadly and relatively common virus. I studied county and state reports of the incidence of rabies and other diseases in our region. I placed my trash in the blue rodent-proof bins provided by the city of Buffalo in their efforts to control the local rat population. I listened to the Erie County Health Commissioner as he discussed their numerous programs designed to benefit the health of local residents. In short, I was really pleased to have moved from rural Louisiana, where public health planning is essentially nonexistent, to Buffalo, where I was part of a medical community that clearly understood that prevention is the key to many public health problems.

Then along came Chris Collins and his budget-cutting allies. For those of you who have not been paying attention, the county leadership is eliminating all programs not directly mandated by state and federal law. I understand the fiscal sensibility of that idea, but sometimes this kind of thinking does not make sense. The county’s cuts in arts funding have deservedly received a great deal of attention. Despite the fact that local arts events generate manyfold in revenue than the county spends in supporting them, the Erie County Executive has made the decision to essentially eliminate spending to dozens of worthy organizations (whose events I attend on a regular basis).

While reducing spending on arts is short-sighted, cutting programs that benefit public health is pathological (pardon the pun) and does not make financial sense. Chris Collins may say that he is “running the county like a business,” but I can almost guarantee that you would not want to patronize any business he runs.

Item 1: It is not expensive to provide rodent-proof bins to county residents. Nor is it costly to have a small staff that actively traps rats. I don’t think any educated person needs me to ramble on about the public health risks of rodent over-population. Those interested can Google “plague” or “black death.”

Item 2: The county is cutting the number of free rabies vaccine clinics for pets from eight per year to four. This makes no financial sense. The Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society and local animal welfare organizations even volunteer their time. These hugely popular clinics cost Erie County nothing more than the cost of the vaccines, which they get at a dramatic discount. Thousands of pets of low-income citizens will now go unvaccinated.

Item 3: The county’s program to titer and vaccinate people in high-risk professions for rabies was some of the wisest spending a government could do. Post-exposure treatment for rabies exposure is considerably more expensive than the test and vaccinate program. To terminate this particular program defies logic.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Government has a place in our society. There are numerous places where government is the best solution and capitalism has no interest in solving the problem. Our county executive’s mission to strangle government will have wide-ranging effects. I just hope that no one dies as a result of his dogmatic approach. To distort the famous line by Kevin Costner—Look out for the rats! If you dismantle the public health system, they will come.

Timm Otterson, Buffalo

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