Friday, June 11, 2010

It has been an odd week

It's been an odd week. It seems like every simple issue I had to deal with at work turned into a 3-4 email chore (Just do what I say, people, and everything will be all right, okay? I don't tell you "this is how it has to be done" just to make you jump through hoops. Seriously--it's how it has to be done. They are computers. They don't make exceptions. Just follow my instructions and don't email back and say "do we really have to do this?") Gosh. It's enough to drive a girl to drink.

Also, I've been watching movies. I'm the kind of person who gets far too reflective after watching a movie. First of all, there's that moment when the movie is over and you discover you are back in your own, mundane real world. Then you realize you have to deal with the same problems you had when you turned the movie on. Then you begin to apply the lessons of the movie to the problems in your life. Which, depending on what movie you've been watching, can be a good thing, a thoughtful thing, or a total exercise in futility.

The movies I watched this week were "Up in The Air" and "Up." Maybe we'll discuss those lessons another time. Maybe not.

About halfway through "Up" Molly began growling out on the porch. She growls a lot nowadays, since I keep telling her that barking is not acceptable. But she's a little dog, and you can't expect a little dog to let things like squirrels and woodchucks go unchallenged. So I find the growling quite amusing, and at least it doesn't annoy the neighbors.

Tonight, however, she was growling with serious intent at the old heavy wood crate on the other side of the cellar door (still half-built). And there was something inside.

Oppossum, I figured, and smiled, because I really like possums. They have quite a set of teeth, however, so I put Molly inside, which offended her terribly. I pulled my backup catchpole out of the closet and grabbed a flashlight, figuring I'd just fish the little guy out and and send him packing into the woods so he/she and Molly didn't have an encounter.

Those who have been reading the blog since the old Caitlin Walker days know I used to have a wildlife control business. So when I walked up to the doghouse, and it made a high-pitched whine, I stopped dead and thought "Oh, shit."

Sick raccoon.

There is a noise that only rabid raccoons make. This is an absolute. Healthy raccoons do not whine. Baby raccoons make that pretty little chitter. The whine of a rabid raccoon is not pretty at all. This raccoon was whining, singing, and growling as he chewed the crap out of the cat bed inside the crate, for no particular reason other than a virus eating out his brain.

I wasn't quite brave enough to just stick the catchpole in there and grab him out like I might have in the "old days." I carefully set a trap and dumped a can of tuna fish through the top. He came charging out in short order and was caught. Then the roaring began. I was on the phone with my mom as I watched the trap, so she had the privilege of hearing a sick raccoon roar. A healthy raccoon is going to give you a good dose of snarling when she's stuck in a cage trap. But nothing can roar like a sick raccoon.

There really isn't a sadder disease than rabies. In general, the animals are not furiously aggressive. Foxes are an exception, and the occasional raccoon. Skunks will walk right up to you and start chewing on your shoe laces. I've held towels out in front of me and rabid skunks have just walked right into them to be bundled up and carted away. Usually they are just sick, wandering creatures that are usually dirty and injured, because they don't care what they fall over or fight with, and even chew on themselves. It takes a few weeks for the disease to reach their central nervous system. During that time their behavior is normal and they can't infect another animals. But once it hits the brain they start to die and then they shed the disease through their saliva. In seven to ten days they are dead. And they usually keep moving the entire time.

This is why, if you are bitten by a domestic animal, the animal is quarantined for 10 days. If the animal was shedding rabies when you were bitten, it will be dead within the those 10 days. If it's still alive, it may still be incubating rabies, but it wasn't infective when it bit you.

When rabies hit NYS in 1990 or so, I was picking up as many as five dead or sick raccoons a day, putting down the sick ones, and trucking them off to Cornell University for testing. I had the dubious distinction of capturing the very first rabid raccoon in the City of Ithaca in the carpet warehouse of Wicks Lumber (yes, where years later the Fast Food Ferals would live). That raccoon introduced me to the singing whine that is the trademark of the disease in these beautiful masked animals.

So yes, the raccoon from my yard is now dead.

There will people who will ask "you can't possibly be certain the raccoon had rabies. Why didn't you take it to a vet or a wildlife rehabber?" I have argued this same argument for hours in years past, and I no longer do it. FIRST, I DO know. And if you ask any person who has ever worked with raccoons in an area with rabies, they'll all say the same thing "Yes, you DO, after you've handled so many." One year I counted up my logs, and I'd picked up 100 raccoons that tested positive for rabies, and another 100 that were rabies suspect. SECOND, no vet will let you within twenty feet of the door of their clinic with a sick raccoon, and with good reason. THIRD, the only certain test for rabies involves killing the animal to test brain tissue.

So the candle is lit tonight for the raccoon, and tomorrow I'll drag that old cat house out in the sun to dry out thoroughly so it can be thrown out (drying kills the virus), and the poor raccoon will end his existence in the landfill. It is not an easy disease.

Luckily the raccoon was male, so there are no babies in a tree somewhere waiting for mom to come home. At this time of year, no removal or relocation of wildlife should take place, since young are in their dens.


Connie, Orlando said...

Sorry for the sad ending. Hope this doesn't mean another rabies outbreak in your area.

And thanks for the details on recognizing rabies in raccoons. Even though I've done TNR for years and worked closely with our animal control, I haven't been involved in wildlife rescue. I've only heard what the general public hears: raccoons acting erraticly or out during daylight hours = rabies. Hope you don't mind if I share this entry with others.

Wildrun said...

Share away! It is important to note that this time of year female raccoons will be out in the daytime because they stay in the den at night to protect their young from marauding males. Their fur is patchy because the young have been pulling at it. So just "being out in the daytime" is NOT a necessary sign of sickness in a raccoon.

Connie, Orlando said...

What mom doesn't look like crap after taking care of a herd of kids? And what mom doesn't take off when she gets a chance? Napping? Let me grab a bite and a soak in the tub.

I've also known of raccoons to make daylight forays to the cat food with colonies in "wilder" areas.

Chrissykat said...

How very very sad. I'm sorry that happened to you during an already trying week. And of course, I'm sorry for that sweet fuzzy soul to get such a horrible disease. You really are some sort of brave aren't you? I will light a candle tonight too, for him & for you...

possumlady said...

You did the only thing you could. In fact, you are a MUCH braver woman than I! Poor thing though. Who can imagine the kind of pain they must be in to be that crazy vicious.

I, also, have seen raccoons out during the day (well, around 6-7 pm)