It was only about 5 o’clock in the morning and still dark outside, when my husband woke me up saying, “There’s a raccoon on the front porch, should I shoot it?”
“Shoot it? No, don’t shoot it,” I said as I rolled over and went back to sleep.
Nothing else was said and Steve left for work. I continued to sleep as I still had an hour and a half before I had to get up and get myself and the kids ready for the day. The kids would be going to the sitters; I had to go to work.
Once up, I didn’t even think about the conversation Steve and I had earlier. I got the kids up and the three of us headed downstairs for breakfast. As I was pouring milk on their cereal, I looked out the dining room window and saw our neighbor, Bud, pointing a shotgun at our house. Since the window was open, I yelled, “Bud, why are you pointing a gun at my house?”
He lowered the gun and said, “There’s a sick raccoon under your window. I think I need to shoot it.”
I moved to the dining room window and asked, “Which window?”
“Under the one you’re standing at, right up against the house. He can barely walk and the front of him looks all wet. I think he’s rabid.”
I couldn’t see the raccoon from where I stood but I said, “You can’t shoot the raccoon when it is right next to my house, Bud. The kids are sitting right here eating breakfast.”
“What should I do? I don’t want him to come over here.”
“I don’t know, but you can’t shoot him when he’s up against my house, sick or not. Maybe you need to wait for it to move?”
“I’ve been waiting, but it isn’t moving, it’s just lying there,” Bud said. “Maybe I should call the police?”
“That’s a good idea, give them a call,” I said.
A short while later Bud telephoned and said he called the State Police and they were sending a trooper out. Where we live in Pennsylvania, we do not have a local police force and rely on the State Police. By the time the trooper arrived, the raccoon had moved and was lying in the middle of our driveway. The trooper also thought the raccoon was rabid and he said he was going to put it down. After asking Bud to step back and making sure the kids were away from the windows, the trooper shot the raccoon and ended its suffering with one shot.
I went outside to thank the trooper for coming out. After chatting for a few minutes, the trooper headed back to his car. “Aren’t you going to take the body and get it tested for rabies?” I asked.
“No, ma’am. We don’t do that. If you want to get it tested for rabies, you can take the head to Harrisburg. Don’t take the whole body, they only want the head.”
“I have to cut off its head and drive it to Harrisburg? That’s ridiculous. Won’t the Game Commission come out here and pick it up?” I asked.
“No, ma’am. The Game Commission will not come and pick it up and we’re not authorized to transport it either. If you want it tested, you have to remove the head and take the head to Harrisburg. I can get you the address if you like.” After declining to know the address, since I was not about to remove the head off of a dead rabid raccoon, the trooper wished us a good day and left.
Since the dead raccoon was in our driveway, Bud wasn’t about to touch it. Because I didn’t want any other animals coming into contact with it, I went to the garage and found a large cardboard box that I covered the animal with. And to be sure the box did not get knocked off or blown off, I put a cinder block on top of it.
I went into the house and called Steve and told him that there was a dead raccoon in the driveway and how it came to be there. Steve said, “I asked you this morning if I should shoot it, you told me no. If I had shot it then, I wouldn’t have to deal with this now.”
I pointed out to him that he never told me he thought the raccoon was sick, just that it was on the porch. After arguing back and forth for a bit, Steve said he’d take care of it and the kids and I left. Since Steve only worked a few miles from our house, he headed home and secured the raccoon body in our trash burner. That evening, when he got home from work, he heaped a lot of wood on top of the dead raccoon and burned the body because he was fearful if he buried it a dog or something might dig it up and become sick. He felt the only way to get rid of it safely was to burn it.
Later that year I read the rabies statistics published by the state. The reported number of wild animals with rabies was very low. But the folks in our neighborhood knew better, we knew the reported number of rabies infected animals was low because people are not comfortable removing the head of a dead animal and driving it to the state capitol for confirmation of rabies. What we did not know, was that the raccoon was only the first of several sick animals that would show up in our neighborhood over the next couple of years.
That was thirty years ago. But even today in Pennsylvania, if you dispatch what you believe is a rabid animal and want to have it tested, you still have to remove the head (or get it removed by a veterinarian) and take it – or ship it – to one of four animal diagnostic laboratories in the state for testing. Monthly rabies reports continue to be published by the state, the most recent report from April 2016 shows there was only one reported case in our county last month – a raccoon.
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