Punkin and MacDougal both took it in the rump, but they took it bravely.

Nattily attired in plaid coats with matching red leashes, Dorothy Beltrone's two Scottish terriers were among hundreds of pets brought yesterday to free clinics in the District and Arlington to be immunized against what national disease experts have called the worst outbreak of rabies since the 1950s.

Since the beginning of the year, hundreds of cases of rabid animals have been reported in the Washington area. The outbreak is "probably the most intensive in the nation and the only large one in proximity to a high density population," according to Jeff Lake, a staff epidemologist with the Virginia State Health Department.

Health officials suspect the rabies outbreak has been caused by raccoons imported by hunting clubs from Southern states such as Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, where the disease is well established.

The MacArthur Animal Hospital inoculated more than 100 pets within an hour of opening its doors. The shots of Norden Rabguard-TC, a pink liquid that will keep pets rabies-free for the next three years, were given by Dr. Edward Morris as part of a D.C. Department of Human Services program.

So even though Punkin and MacDougal are never allowed to run loose, "With all those nasty raccoons about, it surely doesn't hurt to be safe," Beltrone, a District resident, said.

Betsy and Mary Haines put their cat, Mimi, into a cardboard box and their other cat, Pluto, into a picnic basket to make the trip to the veterinarian. Richard Graulich carried his cat, Smokey, in his arms, swaddled in a pink towel.

Morris and his partner, Earl Strimple, donated their time yesterday because, Strimple said, "It's an important cause, and because, since the city issues our licenses, it doesn't hurt to do them a favor once in a while."

Morris said rabies cases started appearing six months ago. He said incidences of the disease, which can kill humans as well as animals, have been seen mostly in the northwest sections of the city, where wooded areas "harbor a phenominal population of raccoons, all of them potential carriers."