SEARSMONT — A rabid raccoon created havoc for a Searsmont couple and the dog they are fostering on July 12 at approximately 5:30 a.m. On July 13, Searsmont Animal Control Officer Robin Dow confirmed via Facebook that the raccoon tested positive for rabies at the state laboratory.
Diane Sturgeon and Nathan Gilbert reside on 25 acres off of Old New England Road in Searsmont. Sturgeon was preparing to walk Decker, a nine-month-old mixed breed and was in the driveway retrieving an item from Gilbert's truck. She called Decker and said that both she and the dog noticed the raccoon emerge from the woods into the field on the property.
"It's the first time I've seen a raccoon in my backyard," she said. Adding that wildlife sightings are constant in the rural area where she resides.
Sturgeon and Gilbert watched as the playful Decker ran toward the raccoon, stopping a short distance away. As the couple attempted to call Decker back, the raccoon lunged toward him.
"The raccoon just came at him," she said. "After that [Decker] and the raccoon started to tangle."
She and Gilbert ran toward the animals, attempting to kick the raccoon away from Decker. It was then that the raccoon latched onto Decker's chin, sending him bolting toward the house with the raccoon — which weighed approximately 20 pounds — still attached.
Sturgeon said that the raccoon had obviously encountered a porcupine and a skunk in prior days.
"I think [the raccoon] was probably near the end stage [of rabies]. It looked pretty rough and had clearly tangled with other animals."
Sturgeon said she feared he would run inside with the raccoon, however Decker stopped just shy of the deck on the home. Detaching the raccoon required Gilbert to step on it while Sturgeon grabbed Decker.
"I grabbed Decker, and grabbed a pair of rubber gloves and began to clean him up," she said.
Gilbert dispatched the raccoon outdoors using a shovel. Sturgeon said they called local animal control officer Robin Dow who came to collect the raccoon's body. As is standard in suspected rabies cases, Dow promptly delivered the carcass to the state lab in Augusta for rabies testing.
Sturgeon said she immediately called veterinarian Justin Blake and took Decker straight to Dr. Blake for an examination. Decker, a foster through Maine Coast Animal Rescue, received a rabies booster and a thorough examination of his wounds. Luckily, said Sturgeon, the punctures were not deep.
"Decker is OK because he is up to date on his vaccines," she said.
Gilbert and Sturgeon already felt Decker might be a perfect match for them, however the traumatic incident sealed the deal on Decker joining their household permanently.
"We were already pretty much there [with adoption]. He was just so, so good." She said.
Searsmont Animal Control Officer (ACO) Robin Dow said that in both Belmont and Searsmont there have been suspected cases of rabies — in a skunk and a bat respectively — during the past year, however the animals were dispatched in a way that did not allow the requisite testing of brain tissue and other samples from a specimen to confirm the disease.
Dow said that keeping animals vaccinated and ensuring that your local town office has a current copy of your dog’s rabies certificate is immensely helpful to ACOs as they are tasked with tracking down dog registrations with lapsed rabies vaccines.
“It’s not panic mode, but it’s really important.” Dow said of rabies prevention measures. Referring to the July 12 incident in Searsmont, she said, “always be sure your pets’ rabies shots are up to date solely for this purpose. It’s also for your protection, the protection of your children, your grandchildren and your other pets.”
For a list of confirmed Maine rabies cases by county please visit the Center for Disease Control & Prevention Center for Public Health Division here.
Jenna Lookner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org