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Rabies, microchip clinics return to tribe

The Seminole Tribe’s animal control program – part of the Health and Human Services Department – is scheduled to host a free rabies and microchip clinic on the Big Cypress Reservation on May 17. The event hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Jonathan Vasquez, the tribalwide animal control program supervisor, has worked at the clinics for many years, which are open to tribal members and tribal residents.

“We provide the service through the tribe – we will vaccinate the dogs for rabies, register them, and upon registering them we microchip them in order to identify the animal and the owner,” he said.

Rabies is a viral disease that is most often transmitted through the bite of an animal, such as a dog, bat, coyote, fox, skunk or raccoon. Microchipping a pet provides a secure, reliable and permanent identification – which greatly increases the likelihood that a lost pet will be returned to its home.

Dogs on the Big Cypress Reservation can be vaccinated for rabies and micro-chipped at a clinic in May. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Animals are animals. Sometimes they find their way out and you might not realize it,” Vasquez said. “When we get a call that a dog is at-large, we pick it up and hold onto them until we can hopefully reunite the dog with the owner.”

Vasquez said rabies bites haven’t been a big issue at the tribe, especially since the clinics were instituted.

“That’s because we make it accessible to prevent it,” he said. “You can’t take care of a rabies issue unless you’re proactive, before it’s an issue.”

Vasquez said that animal bites do happen on the reservations, but are usually “known bites,” meaning an animal bites someone while its playing, or when someone tries to separate animals that are fighting or being aggressive to each other. All in all, Vasquez said, those situations are rare.

Vasquez and his team of four animal control officers recently held a clinic on the Brighton Reservation where about 27 people showed up. He said the numbers are usually higher than that, but some tribal members sought out off-reservation veterinarians during the pandemic. He expects more people to come to the Big Cypress clinic.

“We are constantly busy,” Vasquez said. “There are a lot of animals on all the reservations.”

Vasquez is a familiar face to some tribal members, especially on the Big Cypress Reservation. He’s worked for the tribe since 1999, when he was hired as an alligator wrestler for Billie Swamp Safari, where he also did venomous snake shows. He eventually became the manager of Billie Swamp Safari for six years.

“In the park we’d get constant calls – there’s an alligator here or an animal issue on the reservation,” he said.

Vasquez, tribal member Jacob Osceola, and Big Cypress resident Kimberly Royal, who all worked at Billie Swamp Safari, helped form the tribe’s animal control program in 2007. Osceola presented the proposal to tribal leaders, who approved it.

“It became more important than doing shows for public and provided a needed service – something that’s expanded,” Vasquez said. “It’s a constant because so many have pets, and there’s lots of wildlife.”

Animal control relocates snakes, alligators, bears and raccoons. They take injured animals to wildlife care centers for rehabilitation and then return them to the same area where they were found for release.

“It’s a really interesting job. There are never two days that are alike. It keeps you on your toes,” he said. “Especially when someone calls about a rattlesnake in their garage.”

The May 17 clinic in Big Cypress is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena. It is requested that cats be placed in a carrier and dogs be on a leash. Tribal member identification is required. The Immokalee and Hollywood reservations will also host clinics, but the dates have not been finalized. Questions can be directed to Vasquez at (954) 347-0712.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at