Raccoons are wonderful animals. They’re resourceful, smart and downright adorable. And while raccoons should always be treated with respect and kindness, people really need to stop inviting them into their homes.
Last month, a well-intentioned Colorado woman made national headlines after she brought home a raccoon she said was orphaned, hoping to help the lil’ critter out. Adorable, right? Wrong. The raccoon ended up testing positive for rabies, and now the woman, along with the 20 people she invited over to see the animal, are being treated for exposure to the disease.
A similar story made the news this week. This time, a Maine resident took in an injured raccoon and was “bitten several times,” police in Kennebunkport said in a statement on Monday. That raccoon also later tested positive for rabies.
In both cases, local wildlife officials urged people to not touch or go near wild animals, both for their own safety and for the good of the animals. Unless you’re a professional wildlife rehabilitator or some other kind of expert who really knows what you’re doing, it’s best to just appreciate wildlife from a respectful distance.
Rabies is just one reason to avoid brazenly bringing home the kinds of wild animals known to sometimes carry the disease. But as those two recent cases demonstrate, it’s a major one. If you’re exposed to rabies, or even if it’s possible you were exposed to rabies, it’s crucial that you get medical help as soon as possible and begin a post-exposure vaccine regimen. The process involves a series of shots over the course of two weeks, and depending on your insurance, it can be extremely expensive.
But if there’s any chance you were exposed to rabies, you really don’t have much of a choice. Once a person starts actually developing rabies symptoms, it’s almost always too late for them to survive. Only a tiny handful of people have ever survived rabies without receiving the post-exposure vaccine. Those few survivors underwent intensive treatment that included being put into a medically-induced coma.
That doesn’t mean you need to fly into a panic about seeing raccoons or other wildlife in your neighborhood. Statistically, most raccoons do not have rabies, and raccoons being active in the daytime doesn’t mean they’re rabid. But plucking a raccoon from outside and bringing it into your home, where you’re maximizing close contact and the chances of getting bitten, is just reckless.
Plus, besides rabies, there are several other diseases that raccoons can transmit to people or pets.
If you do see a raccoon or another kind of wild animal that you think might be orphaned, injured or in need of help, call your local animal control, wildlife officials or a nearby wildlife rehab center and ask them for advice. That’s not just for your own safety, but also for the well-being of the animals. Every year, wildlife experts around the country lament the large numbers of people who mistakenly attempt to “rescue” animals that really do not need their help. By removing those animals from their natural habitats, a lot of people are unintentionally doing more harm than good.
You can read more about living in harmony with raccoons here.