Grisly lessons were learned this week in Shaker Village, and I’d like to share some important information.
First, this phone number:
Animal Control Officer (Paul Willard)
So, here's what happened. Thursday morning, when I first woke up, Marci said that our beagle Cricket had been up since 4:00 a.m., sniffing frantically all around, as if there had been an animal in the house. But nothing seemed amiss, so I grabbed the slop bucket and headed outside to feed the chickens. On my way out, I heard a noise from the basement. I opened the door, and saw a raccoon staring right at me. I shut the basement door, set down the slop bucket, grabbed my camera, and descended to the bowels of the meetinghouse, where I got this photo for you.
And here is my most significant mistake: I chased him away. What I should have done was carefully secured the basement perimeter and called animal control. Instead, I chased him through the broken window (just half a missing pane), and hoped he wouldn’t return. But problems seldom behave like that.
A few hours later, the raccoon killed one of my (rare, heritage breed, friendly) chickens, making the marauder officially no longer cute. Then, it advanced to my neighbor’s barn. It brazenly marched past two people, then killed some of their chickens and seriously injured their cat. They cornered the raccoon briefly, but then repeated my mistake: they too chased it away, optimistically hoping that it wouldn’t come back.
In the process of rushing to the animal hospital, two people handled the injured cat, and the vet who treated it (successfully) said that if the raccoon was rabid, any raccoon saliva on the cat could potentially infect anyone who touched it. So, they wound up in the emergency room, enduring the first in a series of painful shots. Marci, you might know, worked for the UN in Laos, where rabies is actually a leading cause of death. So, we know that this isn’t an over-reaction. Rabies is nothing to play around with. If you're not sure, you have to get the shots.
The next day, after the mayhem, Marci looked out the window and noticed that our alpacas were acting concerned. They had huddled together were all facing the same direction, ears pricked up, and Rosie Gray making his alarm cry. (It sounds like a train screeching to a halt.) I dashed out to investigate. The raccoon had returned. He briefly gave me the slip, but ran back towards our house. Finally, then, I did something smart. I encouraged him back into the open basement window. Once he was inside, I sealed it shut after him, and we called Harvard’s animal control officer (and farmer extraordinaire), Paul Willard.
Paul arrived shortly afterwards, and shall we say, efficiently and permanently neutralized the threat.
The raccoon tested positive for rabies. We only could confirm this because we had its miserable carcass, and we are fortunate that it returned. It was acting only a little weird, in not showing fear, but not that weird. No foaming at the mouth, no running around in circles, no talking to himself. Rabies isn’t always obvious. But that's the next lesson: You need a body to test for rabies. If the critter is freed to run around elsewhere, anyone who might have had contact with its saliva must get horrific emergency rabies treatments, just to be sure. But if you can absolutely determine that it is not rabid, they might be spared significant discomfort and expense.
Here’s my overall take-away: If you get visited by a raccoon, maintain your distance, but secure it if you can, and keep the animal control officer’s phone number where you can find it easily. If it escapes, let your neighbors know.
Thanks very much to Paul for his assistance, this week. Enormously helpful.