(Photos were scanned from the Burlington Free Press and in no way reflect the quality of Peter Huoppi - Free Press Photographer)

Greg Hartman of Fairfax holds his cat Mimim while Michele Hemenway gives it a rabies vaccine Monday aft4ernoon at the Fairfax town garage.

FAIRFAX -- Just as sure as the sap runs, just as sure as the broooks liberate themselves from the ice to trickle downhill, Vermont witnesses a rite early each spring.

The rabies shot.

Monday, in Fairfax, nearly 20 dozen dogs and cats and the humans who tend them queued so the animals could be injected against one of nature's most nefarious ills -- at a savings.

Dr. David Stevenson, a Hyde Park veterinarian, and his staff, stuck dog after dog, cat after cat, with syringes loaded with rabies vaccine inside the town garage. All for just 10 bucks. Performed inside the vet's office, the same service could cost several times more.

That savings is what lured Craig and Deb Sanborn of St. Albans Town. They brought Megan, their 6-year-old mutt, for her every-two-year shot.

To do so, they and 200 or so others had to endure the quagmire of mud outside the garage that is as much part of the Vermont springtime as the rabies shot.

Craig, his jacket splattered with mud, said the savings were on his mind, even if Megan's long black and brown coat was clotted with filth.

"The price is right," he said as he stood outside the garage at 6:05 p.m., minutes after the vaccination event had officially ended. Taking the dog to the vet's office, he said, means long and prying questions about distemper, hearworm, kennel cough and myriad other canine maladies. This trip to the town garage, empty for a day of dump trucks and graders, was a reprieve, as well as a savings.

It came at a cost. Mud prevailed, deeper than shoe soles, puddled, slick, and raked by thousands of dog claws.

Pet owners form a line outside the Fairfax town garage Monday afternoon while waiting for rabies vaccinations for their dogs and cats.

Vehicles, most of them pickups or SUVs, parked on the slant against a wet corn field spiked with last year's remnants. The Fairfax lot immediately around the garage was an impossible morass, knotted with angled cars, snarling dogs and impatient humans.

St. Bernards stared longingly at Pekinese. Mutts bared their teeth. Owners waited in ooze and kept their distance. Cats -- Some contained by dairy crates -- hissed at the masses.

Mimim did her best to hide from the crowd. The orange and white cat buried her head in the crook of Greg Hartmann's arm.

"She would be sitting on the rocking chair," on a normal day at 5:45 p.m., said Anissa Hartmann, 7, of Fairfax.

"Or eating," said her sister, Anna, 10.

Stevenson said he does 15 or so vaccine clinics each year, and has done them for 18 or 19 years.

He's been a veterinarian for 21 years and, he said proudly, "I've never been bit."

This is a busy season for him.

April 1 is the last day to license domestic pets in Vermont. Cats and dogs require proof of a rabies vaccine for that license, and humans being humans, most put off the chore until the last possible moment. To wit, now.

To Stevenson, it's a town meeting-sort-of rite.

"This," he said smiling broadly at the expanse of nervous dogs and owners, "is an event. We see a lot of familiar faces."

(Contact Ed Shamy at 660-1862 or

Henry Raymond
March 26, 2003