HOPE, Maine — When Charlie Weidman discovered Zeke, his family’s dog, tangling with a wounded, rabid raccoon, he didn’t drown the varmint in a puddle the way fellow Hope resident Rachel Borch did last summer.
He didn’t have a puddle, but he did have a dull 10-inch bread knife. So he used it to slit the raccoon’s throat, saving the life of his 10-year-old pet and adding to the little town of Hope’s growing legacy for inventive ways to vanquish rabid raccoons.
Weidman’s raccoon run-in happened on Feb. 21 near his family’s home on Hobbs Pond. He suspected that a critter had been living under a neighboring camp since last summer. He figured it was a skunk or a porcupine. And it caught Zeke’s attention.
Zeke, a wire-haired mixed breed, “tends to avoid things that could injure or scare him,” Weidman said. But that afternoon, Zeke was determined to figure out the identity of the mystery creature under that nearby camp.
It was a quiet and lazy Wednesday during school vacation week, Weidman said, until one of his daughters came running into the house saying that Zeke was fighting with something. Weidman ran outside and thought the animal sounds were coming from across the lake because they were muffled. But after driving down to the water, he found nothing.
When he returned to his house, his youngest daughter was trying to kick a raccoon out of the dog’s mouth.
The dog apparently had gone under the camp to investigate the mystery creature and began fighting with the raccoon under the building — which is why the sounds were muffled.
While Weidman was checking the lake, his two daughters were trying to separate the raccoon and dog, who had taken their fight from underneath the camp to a gravel pathway close to the waterfront.
“The dog had the raccoon by the belly and the raccoon had the dog by the face,” Weidman said.
When his youngest daughter succeeded a second time in separating the two animals, the raccoon fell directly at Weidman’s feet.
A volunteer firefighter and diver, Weidman said he thinks a lot about how he can bring a fast resolution to tricky situations.
Dealing with a raccoon proved no different.
In about four seconds, Weidman placed one foot on the raccoon’s head and his other foot on the raccoon’s chest. He reached for the knife he keeps on his belt — but it wasn’t there.
He sent his daughter into the house to grab a knife and she returned with a “dull serrated bread knife.”
Not the ideal weapon, but it would do the trick.
“I reached down and I slit the raccoon’s throat, and that was the end of that portion of the encounter,” Weidman said.
At that point, Weidman didn’t suspect the animal was rabid. It wasn’t foaming at the mouth or showing signs of having a “rabies-addled brain.” But the raccoon was wounded and covered in blood, he knew killing it would put it out of its misery.
Zeke suffered some scratches on his face, but neither Weidman nor his daughters suffered any cuts during the encounter. Still, Weidman knew he needed to take precautions in case the animal was rabid.
Who did he call?
Heidi Blood, the animal control officer for Hope and five other midcoast towns.
‘An abundance of caution’
After Borch’s raccoon encounter last June, Blood told the Bangor Daily News, “when there’s one infected, there’s typically another.”
Blood said this latest confirmed rabid raccoon case proves her previous statement.
The two raccoon attacks happened about 8 miles apart, Blood said, but raccoons have a wide travel radius.
“These two raccoons probably encountered each other at one time or another,” Blood said.
After Weidman killed the raccoon, Blood took the dead animal to the Maine Center for Disease Control lab in Augusta so it could be tested for rabies. Two days later, the results came back: The raccoon tested positive.
If untreated, rabies is fatal. Infected animals start showing signs of rabies within a couple weeks, Blood said. In humans, symptoms of rabies can start showing within a few weeks, though it often takes a few months.
“It’s not something to mess around with,” Blood said.
While Weidman and his family didn’t have any cuts as a result of the encounter, they were exposed to the raccoon’s saliva when they were cleaning their dog. Given that, if untreated, rabies can kill humans, Weidman said his family wanted to use “an abundance of caution” in seeking treatment.
Right after the attack, the family’s veterinarian gave Zeke a rabies vaccine booster, even though the dog was up to date on the vaccine. While not required, the family has put Zeke on a 45-day quarantine, just to be safe.
Weidman, his wife and his two daughters have one remaining shot left as part of the two-week regimen required when treating for a possible rabies infection.
Blood said this latest rabid raccoon is the only animal to have tested positive for rabies in her six towns since last year’s rabid raccoon in June.
Across the state, six animals ― including raccoons ― have tested positive for rabies in 2018, according to data from the Maine CDC. In 2017, 67 animals tested positive for rabies, including 31 raccoons.
If a reported incident with a possibly rabid animal involves a human or a domesticated animal, Blood said, the animal is always killed and sent for testing.
“We err on the side of caution when it comes to rabies,” Blood said.
When someone sees an animal that they believe is rabid, Blood said, there are a variety of ways to handle the situation. If the animal is just in the woods or wandering around, animal control or law enforcement officers should be called, instead of the individual taking it upon themselves to kill it.
However, in situations like the two in Hope, when both people and pets have been attacked by a rabid raccoon, Blood said Borch and Weidman did the right thing.
“With last summer’s attack, and this incident, I think they both took the appropriate action in killing it immediately,” Blood said.
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