[OPINION] Rabid Response Needed

Alert “06880” reader Emily Lerman Taylor had a recent traumatic encounter with a strange-acting animal.

She says she’s not alone. She described her experience, and sent videos. WARNING: The videos are graphic. “Turn the sound off if you are near children,” she says.

Emily writes:

On the afternoon of August 3, I was in my front yard with my 1-year-old daughter and our 2-year-old labradoodle, when a raccoon hobbled out of the woods and, completely unprovoked, attacked my dog Riggins.

I screamed in sheer terror. When I did, the raccoon ran toward me and my baby.

Thanks to a helpful and caring neighbor, I escaped with my baby and trapped the raccoon in my garage.

I called Westport Animal Control and got an answering machine, twice.

Frantic, I called the police, explaining the situation. They dispatched Animal Control directly, letting them know I already had the raccoon trapped in my garage, and that my dog was injured.

They came, killed the raccoon, and sent it off for testing. It tested positive for rabies. 

My baby and I were not harmed (physically). My dog got a nasty bite. He received medical care and seems to be healing well so far.

Because we always keep up to date on vaccinations, he is extremely unlikely to become infected. The rabies vaccine is incredibly effective. Vaccinate your pets!

(If anyone wonders why it’s important to keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date — besides “it’s the law” and “it protects the whole community” — the answer is that without a vaccination, our dog would have been euthanized).

Because many of my family members were exposed to the raccoon saliva on the dog’s fur following the incident, we are now all undergoing rabies vaccine treatment ourselves. This involves multiple shots on 4 separate days, over the course of 2 weeks.

We can only receive our shots at the emergency room, and cannot schedule them ahead of time, so we’ve spent many hours at the hospital this week.

Between that and the fevers/vomiting my children have experienced as side effects, it has been an inconvenience to say the least. But it is one that, given the circumstances, is undoubtedly worth it.

Rabid raccoon (though not the one that attacked Emily’s dog.

As for our dog, the state required he be put in a 45-day “confinement,” in the very unlikely chance he becomes rabid in the coming weeks.

We found a facility that can care for him and is trained in rabies confinement procedure, but we are devastated that he must recover from his injuries without the love and comfort of the only family he’s ever known.

Additionally stressful is the financial burden that comes with surgically treating and then boarding a dog for 45 days. But again, as far as we are concerned, it is undoubtedly worth it.


Riggins, on the mend.

This incident has been horrible for our family all around, but we are acutely aware that it could have been infinitely worse.

A rabid animal is terrifying and deadly, and my mind continues to flash to images of what could have happened had that raccoon gotten to my baby.

As the days go by, I continue to hear from people who have called in numerous reports of suspicious animals with little to no response from authoritie s— and the more stories I hear, the angrier and more frustrated I become.

In all likelihood, this raccoon had been reported on before. But until it attacked my dog and came for me and my child, and until I went to the trouble of trapping it in a confined space myself, no relevant local government agency did a thing.

I’m hoping now they will act on all calls, not just the ones involving violence and harm. Being solely reactive is only acceptable when there is no opportunity to be proactive. That’s not the case here.

Opportunities to be proactive have been abundant. The people of our community have been doing their part to protect themselves and each other. Local government agencies need to do theirs. I’m hoping these videos, and this story, can play a role in making that happen.

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18 responses to “[OPINION] Rabid Response Needed

  1. Sure hope ya’ll visit Riggins regularly over the 45 days.

    • Visiting Riggins might make them feel better, but comings and goings might upset Riggins. With no sense of time, he might be happier if he endured just the first separation and then waited until he went home, instead of going thorough multiple separations that he didn’t understand. It’s a sad and frightening situation for all concerned.

      • Emily Lerman Taylor

        Thanks, Joyce. We agree. We aren’t even allowed to touch him if we visit, which seems like emotional torture for both us and Riggins. Plus we want him to rest as much as possible as his wound heals– getting worked up and excited by our presence will just compromise that. He will be spoiled ROTTEN the second we bring that sweet boy home <3. Mountains of peanut butter, snuggles, and belly scratches await him!!!

      • Point taken…thanks.

  2. So brave of you to share this important story. Thank you.
    Best to your family and hope Riggins is back at home soon.

  3. Dan, Again you are a critical part of your Community’s Alert System. I hope that they appreciate you and find ways to support you through VERY TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES for all normal people and devastating times for anyone on the low end of the economic spectrum.
    Make your government and social support networks WORK. NOT BY PUNISHING BUT BY HELPING ON EVERY LEVEL!!
    Create neighborhood watch and calling chains!!
    Get to know your neighborhood and local police and helpers like animal control.
    In the Eastern part of the state, we have bears walking up on porches to eat bird seed, Cougars? Mountain Lions? BIG CATS checking out horse barns on a regular basis!!
    Humans have taken all of the available and not available space everywhere!! There is almost no space left for our four footed neighbors. WE HAVE OVERPOPULATED THE EARTH INCREDIBLY IN 3 GENERATIONS!!!

    Be mindful!! It IS going to get worse and we can’t KILL all of our wild neighbors or cut down all of the trees because they might drop on our electric lines in a storm!!

  4. I certainly understand this lady’s concern and frustration over this event. I attempted to report a similar ( possibly rabid) animal to animal control with no answer nor response. Taxpayer salaried animal control driving around in their nice new trucks do nothing to protect the community if they are not responding to such critical situations. This animal should have been trapped before such a painful situation.

    • You have no clue what you’re talking about, Mr. Marks. Our Animal Control officers are as good as they come and, properly contacted, respond with alacrity, concern and compentence.

  5. Several years ago I volunteered in Norwalk Hospital’s Emergency Department Lounge. It was at the time of many rabies incidents with people coming in for their first shots. Then, usually, their primary care doctors would get the vaccine and administer the rest. It was believed that a few years before we saw rabies in Fairfield County, hunters had brought a number of raccoons who were infected up from the south, into New York state. It took a long time for the disease to spread, but it did and rabies has been endemic ever since. Since there is no cure once symptoms appear and it is nearly always fatal, it is extremely important to seek medical help for any person or animal who is bitten by a wild animal or stray dog or cat. That is also why vaccinating our pets is so important, too. Some people here seem to be very quick to criticize animal control and their “nice new trucks”. Since they cannot trap an animal until it is reported, keep your eyes open for unusual behavior of any mammal and vaccinate your pets. Any encounter with an animal, domestic or wild, even farm animals, that are acting strangely should be reported.

  6. What a story, Emily! So glad you, baby and dog are safe! And strangely, in our neighborhood out here in the Pacific Northwest, we had a very potentially dangerous similar situation. And now I look everytime I walk my dog as these animals hide and then jump out of bushes to attack. It is concerning. My dog is regularly vaccinated thankfully.

    My dog started growling and scratching at our back deck door and lo and behold a raccoon, at 8 am in the morning, was moving and stumbling around as almost drunk in our back yard where our small grandchildren play regularly. I freaked out and called my neighbor as she is elderly and gardens every morning and our yard borders hers. She wouldn’t be able to get away fast enough. Anyways I called animal control as this raccon stumbled around and hid for a few hours and no one came from animals control to help capture him. .

    Right now my elderly neighbor told me her bird fountain and flowers are regularly touched every night and her things knocked over. He is still lurking around and no animal control still!

    I see crazy stories of people taking in raccons and even foxes from the wild and allowing them in their homes, sitting on their laps, eating at their tables and playing with their dogs! Crazy! I think all of the building of homes and construction may contribute to these animals going into more populated areas. But so disappointed in our animal control. Look what you all went through!

  7. Very upsetting, here on Cape Cod animal control distributed anti rabbi’s medication for the raccoons.

    They toss them out on to sidewalks near wooded areas.
    The raccoons are attracted to their sent and consume them.
    They are a very effective prophylactic.
    I have not heard of a rabbit raccoon here in years.

  8. Cristina Negrin

    Any time you see a nocturnal animal (raccoon) during the day assume it is sick! Get away and yes, call the Police! Don’t try to help it!

  9. Not true about assuming a daytime-appearing raccoon is sick. In the spring time, mother raccoons can venture out to forage for food for their little ones…..

  10. crazy story. glad everyone is recovering. thanks for sharing. i am very confused why a primary care doctor cannot obtain the doses and administer them and you must go to the ED. Is that some state requirement / what is the reasoning? If so time to write legislators. Also, I am confused why if the dog was up to date on its rabies vaccine why there was a 45 day quarantine in a facility? I thought SOP is to give a booster, home confinement, and monitor for 45 days. Where is this law that the dog must be in a facility? Who told you that?

  11. Owee! Was this really a MAX trauma encounter with the wild? I didn’t imagine a lil’ ‘ol coon 30 yards away could provoke such immediate and sustained hysteria. There’s surely a half dozen objects…push broom, leaf rake, lacrosse stick…readily handy in that garage that would have shooed that sorry little sucker off no problemo. Black Bear? T-Rex?

  12. All, just to make sure there is good clear information out there, I just got off the phone with the State of CT Dept of Health, and have confirmed that there are no such requirements to confine a dog that is vaccinated and bitten by a confirmed rabid animal in a professional facility. The state only has the recommendation to give the dog a booster and home confinement/monitoring for 45 days. I havent had time to research the human part of having to receive the vaccination in a hospital, maybe someone else can, but I feel its important to ensure clear information is out there and that it was the family’s personal decision to send their dog off to a facility, not a requirement.

    • Emily Lerman Taylor

      Hi Joshua. Thanks for your kind words above, and I appreciate you taking the time to clear up any confusion my story might have caused about the issue of rabies confinement. I certainly don’t want to spread misinformation- there is enough of that in today’s world, and I definitely don’t want to be a contributor! In earlier versions of writing this story, I explained the confinement issue in more detail, getting more into the weeds of how we felt we had no real choice but to board, but for the sake of brevity and digestibility, I edited it down for the 06880. I see now that in doing so, I might have sacrificed clarity, so allow me to explain here (hooray for the comments section, where you can ramble on as long as you’d like!)

      I did not mean to suggest that boarded confinement is the ONLY option. It was simply the only viable option for OUR family. Yes, confinement can be done in the home, technically. But the rules for home confinement are quite strict (understandably, to keep family members and the community safe) and, we determined, would be near impossible to carry out with a 4-year-old and 1.5-year-old in the home (I work part time, take care of my children full time without regular outside help, and my husband works in the city most days. Therefore, I would be the assigned “designated caretaker” for the dog, responsible for keeping him isolated from other members of the family within the home). To keep Riggins away from the kids (aka crated and/or locked in a room) while still sharing a home where he could hear and smell them seemed cruel to the dog and emotionally confusing for my children, not to mention logistically impossible. In addition, when we made this decision to board, my family was not yet fully vaccinated for rabies, and therefore we did not feel comfortable having Riggins in the house with children too young to be responsible for their actions, able to follow a set of complex rules, and able to comprehend the seriousness of the situation. I completely respect the fact that some families, even those with young children, would choose to take the admittedly very small risk (rabies-transmission-wise) of doing home confinement. At that time, with Riggins’ health prognosis less clear and our family unvaccinated (plus all the logistical complications mentioned above), we were unwilling to take that risk.

      That being said, we are all fully vaccinated now and hope to bring Riggins home from the boarding facility early, as long as his next vet appointment and stitch removal goes well and without further complication. We have been checking in on him daily via phone calls, text, photos, videos, etc, and all signs point to a healthy, healing dog who did not, thank god, contract rabies. We have also spoken to various health experts who have assured us that at this point (over 3 weeks out from the incident), the chances of a vaccinated dog developing rabies, as well as the chances of us contracting rabies from him now that we are all fully vaccinated, is statistically almost zero. 

      As for the ER visits for rabies shots, I was instructed by the Aspetuck Health District that that was our only option. Believe me, I questioned this repeatedly, as it was incredibly inconvenient to get 5 family members (my mother-in-law included) vaccinated this way. I was never given a clear reason as to WHY it is done this way (I have my theories, but in order to avoid possible misinformation-spreading, I will not share them here!), but I was assured it was my only option. If this information is incorrect, then I was misinformed by the Health Department— which would be a shame, but I suppose not an impossibility. 

      Hope that clears everything up. Again I would never want to contribute to the spread of misinformation— my intent in sharing this story was to increase awareness of the issue of rabid wildlife in our area, and hopefully get the ball rolling for some preventative change going forward, in order to protect both the humans and pets of this wonderful community. 

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