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2003 News from Mecklenburg County

June 19, 2003


Charlotte, NC – The Mecklenburg County Health Department is contacting area healthcare providers and veterinarians about monkeypox and a federal order to prevent prairie dogs from being transported.  Prairie dogs have been linked to the spread of monkeypox in other parts of the country.

To comply with the joint federal order from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Control will not be taking custody of pet prairie dogs or African rodents.That order prohibits the sale, transportation, showing or release into the environment of certain rodents and prairie dogs.

If a citizen should report a prairie dog to Animal Control, an officer will visit that owner to make certain that the animal is not sick.  That owner would be issued an order to not move the animal.  Animal Control will only remove pet prairie dogs if they appear diseased.

Some animal owners have chosen to release these animals into the wild to prevent them from being confiscated by Animal Control.  By suspending the enforcement of the ordinance governing these animals, owners may be less likely to do so.  Prairie dogs or other non-native animals released into the local environment could establish themselves as carriers for other diseases in our area.  Pet suppliers or owners of these animals are asked to keep them indoors in their current location.

“The ordinance is meant to protect the public’s health,” says Mecklenburg County Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener. “Enforcing it at this time, however, may actually help spread disease.  We want to prevent that.”

It is a violation of City Ordinance Sec. 3-30 to have a wild or exotic animal.  Without specifically naming them, the ordinance does cover prairie dogs. The language of the ordinance defines wild or exotic animals in part as any that may be found in the wilderness of this or any other country.

The Health Department has already contacted area pet shops about monkeypox and the possible link to prairie dogs.  A letter and fact sheet will be mailed to all pet shop owners in Mecklenburg County detailing information on monkeypox and contact information for questions.

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