Animal control officers, working in the face of the worst rabies epidemic in this country in 22 years, made their second weekend spot survey for uninoculated pets in Prince George's County last Saturday.
They visited 200 houses in Bowie and gave 30-day compliance notices to about 25 residents whose pets were not inoculated, officials said. About 160 of the 200 householders were pet owners. Officials found unlicensed animals in approximately 30 homes.
On the previous Saturday, about 200 households, including 80 with pets, were checked in Temple Hills and Camp Springs.
One out of four pet owners had no proof that their animals had been given rabies vaccinations, officials said.
John Komsa, one of the Bowie householders contacted Saturday, told officers that his three dogs shouldn't be required to wear license or inoculation tags because "they're part of the family."
"You don't have tags on humans, do you?" he asked. Like the other owners without documentation, he was given 30 days to send proof of inoculations and to get licenses.
Thus far in 1984, Maryland has recorded 1,004 cases of rabid animals, most of them raccoons, whose numbers have been dying off as the epidemic moves eastward. The state has the highest rate of incidents in the nation this year.
Frederick County, which has recorded 247 cases -- more than in any other Maryland jurisdiction -- is conducting education programs about the disease and using radio advertisements to encourage pet inoculation. Prince George's, which had 16 cases last year, is second with 218 cases thus far in 1984.
Tuwanda Gray, a Prince George's animal control employe who visits schools and civic groups to talk about the dangers of rabies, said she feared that other pet owners might share Komsa's sentiments.
"We can understand an individual's attachment to his animal," she said, "but not at the risk of spreading rabies."
Animal control chief Alan Davis, who led the six-member squad on the Saturday searches, noted that 12 pets in Bowie alone were found to have been exposed to rabies last week, probably through the saliva of raccoons. The pets, whose blood or urine was tested, were given preventive shots, and did not have to be killed, he said. But he speculated that many more pets may have been exposed.
"That's obviously the reason we decided to concentrate our search efforts in that area," he said.
Davis said that owners who do not have their pets inoculated are subject to a $25 county fine, while the state can impose a $500 fine.
"I'm encouraged with the overall response," Davis said, noting that 174 pets were inoculated at the animal clinic in Forestville Saturday, up from 117 the previous weekend.
But Davis said many pet owners, believing that rabies can only be contracted through an animal bite, weren't fully aware of the epidemic's proportions.
Dr. J. C. Shook, a state veterinarian, said he shares the frustration over lack of concern about the danger to pets and their owners.
"A rabid animal does not hunt," Shook said. "Rabies can be spread in the most subtle ways. For example, if a rabid animal's saliva comes in contact with a pet, the pet can spread it to the human just through casual contact."
Shook said rabies affects the central nervous system, which causes the animal to stray. "The animal is confused to the point where it doesn't know where it's going, which will cause it to wander aimlessly," he said. "It will start bumping into things and will bite whatever is in the way, even car tires."
Shook said that 87 percent of rabid animals are raccoons and that rabies usually spreads in geographic cycles.
"What we have in Maryland are rabid animals that came from West Virginia," he said. "Many of those will die over three or four years. Others will move on and some will simply become immune."
Davis said pet checks will resume after the holidays.