Pontifications · Rants · Rural Life · Storytelling

A Rabies and Distemper Reminder

And pets must be VACCINATED for Distemper and Rabies to be protected!
But that protection isn’t 100% effective so it is NOT okay to expose even a vaccinated pet to wildlife that may carry these diseases.
Exposure WITHOUT prior vaccination means CERTAIN DEATH for housepets!!!

You read that? There is NOTHING they can do once a pet is exposed if the pet is not vaccinated.

If you or your pets are ever exposed, immediately seek medical attention. If you have a potentially rabid animal on your property have a list of official people you can call (animal control, non-emergency numbers) or know how to handle the situation properly yourself. Dial 911 if you are in an emergency and/or being attacked by wild animals. Because, duh.

Despite their propensity for disease and minor disaster creation, raccoons are insufferably cute. Their cuteness is only equal to how incredible an ultra-adaptable nuisance animal they are. In rural America I have tangoed with raccoons killing my chickens in the dark of night, raiding my garbage, antagonizing my pets, climbing the side of the house/barn/sheds/cars, and scaring the shit out of me on a hunt. Yet no matter my mood or assessment of wildlife, I always disliked letting a creature before me to suffer.

Whether by disease, infection, injury, starvation, or just age, death in the wild can be brutal, long, and just utterly merciless. ‘Nature’ is chaos — a miserable, inconsiderate state of random, prepared to incapacitate you and let you die, slowly and painfully. This reminds me, every time I see it that humanity has spent its time carefully building its cultures and its ideas in a way to protect us from the chaos that reigns in the world outside. Sadly, a lot of people have forgotten the brutality, enough that our own personal conflicts with each other surmount our joint efforts to protect humanity as a whole.

But I digress, this little raccoon showed up, chittering and screaming away a few weeks ago. And something, other than its abandonment, was very wrong with the poor creature.We just left it alone in hopes it’d crawl into the woods and be gone or its mom would find it if it was just lagging behind. Yet the next morning we went out and the distressed little creature was still there, dazed and writhing in discomfort. It kept chittering in a pathetic sort of way. The tiny creature was even more lethargic, taking on nothing like the regular presence of a healthy, busy, defensive raccoon.

Such reality was before us in a tiny, dying little creature. Poetically intercepted by us and our personal decision we made to react.

We reacted because we knew it was potentially a carrier of something nasty and potentially transmissive to me, my spouse, and our children. I won’t sugar coat that. Even the damn house cat, Bootsie, was at risk (albeit lessened with vaccination). With my twins I knew we couldn’t let it linger for days dying outside. We called the State Trooper’s non-emergency line and got the numbers for animal control, but being so rural these people don’t operate on a 24 hour system and we couldn’t get in touch with anyone. Our main rationale for this was to see if the county wanted to test it for rabies. Alas, no one answered and we decided we weren’t going to wait.

When we went out again the blowflies were already descending upon the tiny, still breathing creature, and its distress whimpers were heartbreaking. We relocated it using a snow shovel to a disposal location and it met as swift and humane an ending as we could give it.

While we didn’t know what this little raccoon had, it still brought up memories of the one time I encountered full blown rabies. The classic, story-book line of hyper-aggressive rabies, at that. The rabid raccoon had sprinted and stumbled midday, across several fields and into our beef barn. Foam was whipped across its face like a macabre grin, and there it came threateningly close to us, the livestock, our blue heeler, and cats. The animal was unlike anything I’d ever seen and it was my first real face-to-face with the condition of a rabid animal.

Graciously we were warned by a neighbor up the road who had seen the raccoon, large and ominous, barreling through the fields on her property in the blaring sunlight. She said it was going out of its ever loving mind and was as erratic as it was crazed in its scrambling. She did not want anyone hurt so she hopped in her Jeep and came at breakneck speeds down the road to warn my parents.

My father came down to the barn with a small rifle and headed to where the raccoon was. The animal was lathered in frothy saliva and gnashing its mouth like something out of a horror movie in the back of the barn. It was both disoriented and vicious at anything near it. Raccoons can be aggressive when approached regularly, but not like this. There was no fear just … crazed anger. This thing was lunatic-level. Its eyes were vapid and its looked sickly, no response except mania and confusion. My dad shot it at the steps above the parking area where usually had the manure spreader (which we loaded via a gutter cleaner system). Thankfully the room was empty. We had to very carefully clear the area with bleach and dispose of the body — taking every precaution we possibly could, and dousing everything in bleach.

Now, in the reality of things, this baby raccoon that showed up had something. Whether it was distemper AND/OR rabies is speculative. Barring pretty obvious signs of rabies (foaming, aggression, etc.) the two diseases can act pretty indistinguishable and without laboratory testing it is not okay assume an animal is okay or that it ‘just has distemper’ or that all raccoons have rabies (in most cases distemper is more probable but prepare for the worst and be safe). The average raccoon isn’t littered with rabies. They are curious, skittish creatures — they might move kits during the day or if they are disturbed. The time to react is when one is hanging around, shows no fear of you during mid-day, is dragging its hind quarters, or is posing a threat to you or yours. Other than that, just let them be. There is no need to ‘kill them all’ or pretend they are a Disney animated friend (they aren’t).

If you can, call animal control or the non-emergency line. And, again, stay away from it. If there is something obviously wrong or the situation demands you react and it won’t leave, then you have to really consider your reaction.

Humans are most definitely capable of contracting rabies to detrimental and/or lethal effect but humans cannot contract distemper. Yet they still can aid in transmission of the distemper virus to even vaccinated household pets if they handle an infected animal and then handle their pets. Raccoons can carry both canine and feline variants of distemper, as well. That means if you interact with a wild animal — completely disrobe before you drag potential vectors in your house. Never let pets involve themselves and have them vaccinated to give them a fighting chance. If they have involved themselves without your consent, get them to a vet ASAP.

Also be aware that such animals may be initially asymptomatic or still capable of transmission of distemper for weeks after if they manage to survive their case. So, again, this isn’t just for sick animals. Stay safely away from wildlife.

If you’re DIYing these ventures, as many rural families must, and need to get rid of something sick or bothersome or that you had to kill for whatever reason — PLEASE take precautions. Dispose of them properly by doing the following: “Wear gloves. Pick up the animal with a shovel. Then bury it (12 inches deep) or double-bag it and put it in the garbage. To kill the virus, sprinkle the ground and wash the shovel/gloves with a 10% solution of bleach in water (9 parts water, 1 part bleach).” (Source Here: NYS DEC)

Again, if you can’t kill the animal yourself then you need to call animal control or your local police to come help you.

This is also why feeding wildlife is a bad idea (other than having detrimental effect on healthy animals who begin to associate humans with food and involving themselves to their own ill fate). Should you get bit and/or licked and/or contact fecal matter and/or wind up carrying infected fleas home to your pets there is room for a lot of heartache to happen. Stay. Away. Keep Safe.

Distemper is highly contagious and vaccination is not 100% effective in pets.

And potential rabies infections need to treated ASAP for humans.

Stay safe, folks. Vaccinate yourself and your pets for what you legally can and be aware of risk management when dealing with wild animals.

It’s chaos out there.

For more reading on Raccoons, rabies, and distemper here are some official sources:

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