Raccoons, Rabies, and Old Yeller

A Florida news release caught my attention with the line, “Authorities today warned the public to watch for animals acting in ‘an unusual or suspicious manner’ after a woman was attacked by a rabid raccoon.”
With their built-in masks and curious nature, raccoons often look impishly “suspicious,” but the rabies angle is nothing to laugh about. Apparently, from 2007 through 2012, more than 1,500 Floridians reported being bitten or scratched by a raccoon. As I detailed in a previous blog, Trying My Best to Live and Let Live, I’ve battled raccoons in sweet corn fields and at the perimeter of my goldfish pond, but I’ve not been bitten by a raccoon.
While growing up on a Midwest farm I was scratched by cats, slobbered on by dogs, pecked by red-winged blackbirds, and attacked by angry sows, but the only bite I remember was from a ground squirrel—the little critter latched onto my finger and wouldn’t let go until blood was flying from both of us. I was eleven, and when Dad came in from the field for lunch, he started with his usual suspicions about wild animals. “Wonder if it was diseased. We might have to take it to the lab for a rabies test.” 
My brothers chipped in about then. “Yeah, like Old Yeller. You’ll start droolin’ and then go crazy, and they’ll tie you to a tree or something.”
In those days, my friend Merle lived four miles down the road, and a recent scuffle with a stray dog had him in for rabies shots. “One shot a day, for ten days, with a needle this long.” He placed his hands far enough apart to indicate that the needle would have to go clear through his body. I got the picture—it hurt. Some jabs in the back, some in the stomach. I’m sure the technique has improved, but Merle received tough treatment. I think they ended up catching the dog, and it sacrificed some brain tissue for the rabies test at the Animal Disease Lab. Bit of irony for both Merle and the dog—it didn’t have rabies.
Some years before the ground squirrel latched onto me, Dad dealt with another rabid intruder—a skunk was doing circles on the lane one hot summer day. Dad drove the pickup a short way down the lane, stood in the bed of the truck, and, with rifle in hand, did his best Atticus Finch imitation. Like the lawyer from Macomb, Dad never bragged about shooting, and he didn’t hunt much by the time we kids were around. But he didn’t hesitate to put down a rabid animal, and the skunk was a hazard for us kids, the dogs, and our livestock.
In the end, we decided the ground squirrel wasn’t diseased, so I didn’t get the needles from hell. I’ve felt a bit rabid a few times during the subsequent decades, but I can’t blame that on the squirrel.
I’ve continued to visit the farm when I can, and I don’t worry about critter attacks because Dad and my brothers are skilled at taking out raccoons with distemper or other sick-looking critters. For that reason, I’ve always made a point of not looking ill when I visit the farm—no pus-filled eyes or frothing at the mouth, and I avoid going in circles when I walk down the lane on hot summer days.  by dan gogerty (pic from amazon.com)

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