Exemption from Rabies Vaccination: A Canine Health and Welfare Issue in the Golden State

Update: October 10, 2011

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is pleased to report that California Assembly Bill 258 (AB 258) has been signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

AB 258, which was sponsored by HSVMA, establishes a uniform and safe mechanism to allow exemption from rabies vaccination for those California dogs in whose cases a veterinarian determines such vaccination may be potentially lethal. The new law not only protects at-risk California canines but also helps preserve the human-animal bond, since caregivers with ill and immuno-compromised dogs can now continue to license these dogs without being required to vaccinate their animals.

HSVMA extends our thanks to Governor Brown, Assemblymember Curt Hagman (the author of the bill) and his legislative director, Victoria Stewart, and other supporters including the California Veterinary Medical Association, for helping enact this important animal welfare legislation.


March 7, 2011

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is sponsoring California Assembly Bill 258 (A.B. 258), also known as Molly’s Bill, to protect dogs whose health might be severely compromised by rabies vaccination. Molly’s Bill would provide a uniform mechanism for rabies vaccination exemptions for those dogs in whose cases—in a veterinarian’s professional judgment—vaccination may be risky, harmful, or potentially lethal and is thus medically contraindicated. These cases may include, but are not limited to, dogs with terminal diseases such as cancer, immune-mediated diseases, severe allergies and chronic life-threatening conditions such as renal failure, severe endocrine disorders and degenerative neuromuscular diseases.

During 2010, HSVMA supported a previous effort to pass Molly’s Bill. However, it stalled in last year’s legislative session. At a press conference in February, Assemblymember Curt Hagman re-introduced the legislation, and Dr. Tracy Yen spoke in support on HSVMA’s behalf. The event was also attended by the bill’s namesake, Molly, an English Springer Spaniel cared for by Sam and Cecilia Gadd of Chino Hills, Calif. Molly contracted an autoimmune disorder, and despite her attending veterinarian’s recommendation against further vaccination, local authorities denied Molly a medical waiver for her licensing.

Making matters worse?

Vaccination is a powerful medical tool with potentially powerful side effects. Research indicates that rabies vaccine-associated reactions in dogs are significant. Numerous individual veterinarians and veterinary clinics, veterinary medical teaching institutions and professional associations support the necessity for selective exemption from vaccination. Dogs exempted under A.B. 258 would be medically evaluated by a veterinarian and monitored by local public health officials. The public may actually be put at greater potential risk for zoonotic disease without a vaccination exemption provision, because pet owners who are deeply concerned about their dogs’ health and are deprived of an exemption option may choose to fly ‘under the radar,’ eluding both vaccination and licensing entirely.

From the national perspective, there is significant precedent for this type of legislation. Many states have implemented exemption from rabies vaccination programs while effectively preserving the public health. A number of states—including Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wisconsin—already provide for medical exemptions from rabies vaccination in their dog licensing programs.

Take action!

Molly’s Bill is awaiting a vote in the California State Assembly. We urge our California-based veterinary professional members to contact their Assemblymember to encourage their support for this important measure. Tell them that our licensing system should be flexible enough to accommodate legitimate medical exceptions to vaccination when a dog’s health and well-being are at stake. And don't forget to tell them that you are a California voter and a veterinary professional.