Westport health notes: All about animals in Westport

Posted 11/3/21

By Tanja Ryden

Welcome to Westport Health Notes, a monthly column from the Westport Board of Health (BOH).  The goal is to share information with our community about local issues and …

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Westport health notes: All about animals in Westport


By Tanja Ryden

Welcome to Westport Health Notes, a monthly column from the Westport Board of Health (BOH).  The goal is to share information with our community about local issues and projects, public health alerts, and even fun facts about the A-to-Z scope of responsibility that local Boards of Health manage.

In the November column we are focusing on animal health, including farm or backyard domestic livestock and household pets. During the pandemic a lot of people have decided to get animals of all kinds so we want to highlight information about animal care and health.  This is important not only for the animals, but also for public health and the environment as well. The federal Centers for Disease Control has recently reported on the top eight zoonotic diseases, which transmit from animal to humans, that they are monitoring. We’ll also talk about state and local rules that may apply to keeping animals on your property.

For owners of domestic livestock, fall is the season for the annual “barn inspections”, as directed by the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). This is part of the state’s disease surveillance system. This requirement covers any property with cattle, goats, llamas, sheep, pigs, horses, mules, donkeys, camelids, rabbits, poultry or fowl – but not household pets or exotic animals.

Last year’s inspections were cancelled due to COVID. This fall, the state-approved town animal inspectors for Westport - Joe Reis and Nick Vidmar - are in the middle of conducting animal inspections at any property in town that houses livestock or poultry. If you currently have backyard chickens or any other domestic livestock, it is important to be sure you are on the town’s animal site registry.  You can stop in at the Board of Health office at 856 Main Road or find the registry form online at the BOH website (https://www.westport-ma.com/board-health/pages/animal-site-registry-asr). 

According to the state, barn inspections are designed to:

* Get a good census of the domestic animal population of the town

* Be sure that all of the animals appear to be in good health and free from disease, and

* Observe animal housing and ensure ample food and water are supplied.

Good sources of information on best management practices for keeping livestock can be found at the MDAR website https://www.mass.gov/service-details/agricultural-best-management-practices-bmps.

Visits typically occur during normal business hours, but if no one is home the inspector will leave a notice to schedule another time.  The completed “barn books” are then submitted directly to the state, where the records are kept confidential.

Local eggs

From the number of roadside egg stands you see driving around town these days, a lot residents have started keeping chickens or other poultry. For those folks, the state’s Division of Animal Health Poultry Program is a valuable resource for free testing for salmonella, which be arranged by calling MDAR at 617-626-1795. Other poultry testing is also available to Massachusetts producers.  In addition, the poultry program provides producers and consumers with educational materials, production support, egg safety, egg handling and inspections. https://www.mass.gov/service-details/poultry-program

Horse, pig permits

The town also requires separate annual permits for all equines (horses, donkeys, etc.) and piggeries (small and large). The Board of Health has regulations and welfare standards for these two categories of animals as part of its effort to comply to with state law (MGL c. 111.s.155). Permits are also required for tenant farms, where the landowner allows livestock owned by another person to be raised. The Board of Health checks to ensure that the site is appropriate for its proposed use and that such farms are operated in a manner that protects the public health, the environment and the health of the animals consistent with good farm practices. Permit applications and copies of the regulations are available in the BOH office.

Vaccinate your pet!

On the household pet front, for any resident who decided to get a pandemic puppy or kitten this year, please make sure they are vaccinated against rabies by age six months. Rabies is a viral disease that can affect all mammals, including humans. The virus attacks the central nervous system and can be secreted in saliva. Humans are frequently exposed to rabies through handling a pet that has fought with a rabid animal. Contact the Westport Animal Control Department at (774) 264-5129 or AC@westport-ma.gov if you or your pets have been exposed to a possibly rabid animal.

Also, all dogs and dog kennels must be licensed annually through the Town Clerk’s office. State law mandates the licensure period to be from April 1 to March 31 of the following year (M.G.L. c.140 s.137), with fines levied for late filing. Proof of rabies vaccination is required. Check the Town Clerks website for details: https://www.westport-ma.com/town-clerk/pages/dog-licenses. Owners of unlicensed dogs may be subject to tickets and fines.

If you have questions you’d like answered or suggestions for future topics, please email the BOH at health@westport-ma.gov.

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