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Bloomington veterinarian urges vaccine education for hesitant dog owners

Closeup of a terrier mix looking up
Grant Hindsley
AP file
Dr. Bernie Bleem, veterinarian at Kruger Animal Hospital in Bloomington, said he mostly sees pet vaccination hesitation in older generations.

A recent survey conducted by Boston University School of Public Health found that 52% of dog owners in the U.S. showed some degree of hesitation when vaccinating their dogs.

Dr. Bernie Bleem, veterinarian at Kruger Animal Hospital in Bloomington, said he mostly sees pet vaccination hesitation in older generations.

“The newer generations see the value of it, and are less swayed by whatever came out of the 60s, 70s and 80s calling vaccinations horrible,” Bleem said. “I think we see the newer generation actually benefiting from being protected.”

Bleem said in his 39 years of being a veterinarian, he has seen fewer than 10 dogs develop autoimmune conditions from vaccinations.

Two men standing and posing for a photo. The man on the left is wearing hospital scrubs and the man on the right has a stethoscope around his neck.
Megan Spoerlein
Kruger Animal Hospital manager Beau Hanger, left, poses for a photo with veterinarian Dr. Bernie Bleem.

He said the purpose of a vaccination is to protect a population.

“Because rabies became something that was seen as legal, we have a significant population vaccinated, so that even though rabies still exists in the state of Illinois, it doesn’t go from house to house because we have enough animals vaccinated,” Bleem said.

Bleem estimates half of the dogs we see on the streets aren’t fully vaccinated.

Bleem said vaccine hesitation goes beyond rabies. He said last fall, there was a Bordetella outbreak in Bloomington-Normal. Bordetella is highly contagious in dogs and is associated with respiratory disease.

“We now have a Bordetella organism that’s incredibly resistant because people were unwilling to vaccinate against Bordetella,” Bleem said. “Now, some of that was because it simply was a misnomer, Bordetella is only seen for boarding dogs. So the population was not informed and because of their own ignorance, they did not vaccinate their dogs, and several dogs died.”

When owners show hesitation to vaccinate their pets, Bleem encourages them to do research and learn the science behind vaccines.

“The truth is they’re the owner of the animal, I’m not,” Bleem said. “And so I will leave them not discouraged, or befuddled, or felt like I made them wrong, but encouraged to find out what, here’s the truth, what do you want to go by?”

Bleem said while pet owners may try to protect their animals by reducing their time outside, the only for-sure way to protect them is keeping their vaccinations up-to-date.

“There’s nothing besides vaccinations that’s going to do a complete, thorough and effective job. There’s no way,” Bleem declared.

Bleem said pet vaccine clinics are held throughout the year at Paradise Pet in Bloomington and Pet Central Helps in Normal.

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Megan Spoerlein is a reporting intern at WGLT. She started in 2023. Megan is also studying journalism at Illinois State University.
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