ELIZABETHTOWN Sarah Prince of Keene values the companionship of her dog, Tucker and makes sure to repay his friendship by taking care of his health. Prince makes sure that Tuckers rabies shots are up to date, which is important since Tucker often encounters wild animals while on walks with his owner. That, said Essex County Public Health Director Kathryn Abernethy, is vital to protect both the health of Tucker and his owner from rabies. May is National Rabies Awareness Month. People love their animals, and it's another expression of their love for their animals to keep them protected. By protecting the animals, we protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors, said Abernethy. Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It is transmitted from infected mammals to man, and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. Only a few human cases are reported each year in the United States. Throughout the month of May, Essex County Public Health will host free rabies clinics for pet dogs, cats and ferrets. In Essex County, every dog and cat three months of age or older is required to be vaccinated against rabies. The best way to prevent the spread rabies is vaccinate our pets not only pets that are outside, but also house pets because bats do get into the house, said Abernethy. The vaccine being used gives one year protection for domestic dogs and cats receiving their first vaccination, and three years protection for dogs and cats receiving a booster. Animals receiving the booster must have previous vaccination documentation. Animals attending the clinic need to be under the control of an adult. Cats may be brought in a cat carrier or restrained in a pillow case; dogs should be on a leash. Raccoon and bat rabies are both present in Essex County. Abernethy said people needed to make an effort to bat proof their homes by plugging up openings. If a bat gets into a home, there is concern for possible rabies contact. If a bat is in a room with someone who is sleeping or impaired, or a child, rabies vaccination may be needed. Bats that get into the home should be captured if possible. People should contain the bat in the room by closing all windows and doors, and contacting the public health department. Bats can usually be captured by using gloves and a coffee can or similar container, then can be submitted for rabies testing. Abernethy said another major factor in preventing exposure in children as well as adults was to avoid touching animals that they arent familiar with. People should avoid contact with wild or stray animals, and refrain from trying to break up animal fights. If an injured animal is in need of help, Abernethy advised people contain the town animal or dog control officer instead of trying to pick it up themselves. If a pet is bitten, the animal only requires a rabies booster shot if its been previously been vaccinated. An unvaccinated animal will require a six-month confinement. We keep finding so many times when there's a been a bite to a human, and (the pet) is not vaccinated - it's really concerning because we want not only the animals but the humans to be protected, said Abernethy. Along with the vaccination program for pets, the New York State Department of Health has an Oral Rabies Vaccination Project in the eastern Adirondacks. Since 1995, vaccine baits are dropped in the region to fight raccoon rabies. All animal bites are reportable. In case of an animal bite, contact Essex County Public Health at 873-3500 or after working hours at 1-888-270-7249. For more information on rabies, go to the New York State Public Health Web site at www.health.state.ny.us.