Be on the lookout for sick wildlife

WILL COUNTY ANIMAL Control picked up this raccoon that was probably dying from distemper, and the resident who found it, wants her neighbors to be aware of the potential risk in their neighborhood. Courtesy photo

Staff Report

Debbie Ferguson said her dogs were barking around 6 a.m. Monday, and her husband looked outside to see what all the ruckus was about.
“He said there was this really big raccoon in the yard, and it wasn’t leaving, it was kind of hanging there,” she said.
“... It didn’t seem like it could walk in a straight line, it would just go around in little circles and then keep falling over.”
They have five acres on the west side of town, and never fenced their property because they like watching the wildlife that roams the neighborhood. This was the first time they’d seen a raccoon out in daylight, and knew that’s not normal. And they knew it’s not normal for a raccoon to not try to get away from the dogs. The animal didn’t appear to be injured.
“It looked like it might be rabies or something, the way it’s falling over, it might be paralyzed,” she said.
After a quick Google search, they felt rabies was a good possibility, because the symptoms matched what the raccoon was doing. They called the sheriff’s department non-emergency number and reported the potentially rabid animal.
The deputy who responded also believed the raccoon could be rabid, because animals with distemper generally just go off and die, they don’t wander around, he’d told Ferguson. The deputy called animal control to collect it.
Animal control officer Kara Seiler said you could tell the animal was sick, but that it exhibited symptoms more closely related to distemper than rabies; it was lethargic and not moving much, but not foaming at the mouth or acting erratically.
She captured the raccoon, but since there was no known contact with the human or canine inhabitants of the property, she said animal control would not be testing to determine which condition applied. Either way it was sick, and the outcome would be the same, the animal was humanely euthanized.
Ferguson is concerned for her own dogs.
“Even if it wasn’t rabies, if it is distemper ... it could be spread to other animals,” she said. The adult dogs are all vaccinated, but the puppies being reared in the house aren’t fully protected yet.
“I was concerned enough that I wanted it reported, if no one ever reports things like that, you would never know if there’s a problem,” Ferguson said. She also posted the incident to social media — she wants her neighbors to know this animal was on her property, and that they should watch for sick animals on theirs.
Will County Animal Control does not provide nuisance wildlife control services, but will respond when an animal is sick or injured, Officer Seiler said.
The Will County Health Department’s epidemiology department adds that animal control will collect and test a raccoon if there is a bite or human exposure and the raccoon is available to be tested, which is the state department of public health regulation. If there is no bite or human exposure involved then there is no need for testing, and animal control generally will not come out and collect a raccoon. The same is true for bats and all wildlife.
Dr. Leroy Schild, animal control administrator, said the virus that causes distemper would not survive on surfaces in the yard, particularly during the winter. He recommends that pet owners who have concerns about exposure to a sick animal should contact their veterinarian to find out the status of their pet’s distemper vaccination, and whether a booster is recommended.
Dr. Schild added that rabies has been prevalent in raccoons east of the Ohio River for 30 or more years, but he’s never heard of a rabid raccoon here. Rabies can only be transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal.