Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli reported that childhood vaccinations had plummeted, largely thanks to a temporary ban on elective procedures at the onset of the health crisis.

That decline apparently did not translate to pets in the Garden State, specifically with regard to rabies vaccinations, as DOH statistics showed no change in the number of rabies cases in domestic animals from 2019 to 2020.

Dr. Adam Christman, chief veterinary officer of Fetch DVM360 and treasurer of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association, said the sustained vigilance of pet owners over the last year has surprised even those in his profession.

There are two reasons for that, he said: the first being, unlike kids once they are of speaking age, pets can't tell their humans what's wrong, and the second is how much time pet parents have spent at home, making them more attentive to their pets' needs.

"They are being more mindful and aware during this time, and we need our animals more so than ever," Christman said. "We really have not seen as big of a dip in compliance as we would have anticipated, actually."

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Pet owners tend to "anthropomorphize" their relationship to their animals, according to Christman, who said people will often do "whatever it takes" to preserve the human-animal bond.

With that in mind, plus the burdens of the ongoing pandemic, Christman said many New Jersey towns took care to extend their deadlines for pet licensing and renewals, including certification of rabies shots.

He made the point that if a pet owner actually contracted COVID, that meant two weeks, or more, that that person could not do the things in public they would normally be under pressure to do.

"For the rabies (vaccine), there's definitely a grace period that we're seeing, whether it be three to five months of that window," Christman said.

Veterinary offices across the state have instituted curbside drop-off and pickup of pets, and telemedicine has become a bigger part of the industry in the past year as well, keeping necessary care running smoothly.

"It is an opportunity to elevate the technology that our profession, I think, needed, a little match under us to light us in the right direction," Christman said.

The Department of Health continues to recommend that pets be vaccinated for rabies, and said pet owners should contact their municipality for the latest information on vaccine clinics and dog licensing.

State health officials declined further comment on vaccination rates.

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