Leeuwenhoek Lecture 2018 given by Professor Sarah Cleaveland OBE FRS. Rabies is one of the world’s oldest-known, most terrifying and most deadly diseases. Although the disease no longer poses a threat to public health in many wealthier parts of the world, tens of thousands of people in impoverished communities of Asia and Africa still die from rabies every year as a result of rabid dog bites. International efforts are now focused on a global target of zero human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030. This presentation describes how more than 100 years of rabies research provides cause for optimism as to the feasibility of canine rabies elimination but also highlights the need for realism in the path towards elimination, emphasising the importance of partnerships, political will, public engagement and perseverance. Research on rabies also has broader relevance to the control and elimination of several diseases of current concern to human and animal health, including emerging and neglected diseases, and exemplifies the benefits of taking of a “One Health” approach to disease control and prevention.