Handling a Raccoon: a Deadly Mistake

We often hear from finders who have handled wild raccoons without gloves— a mistake that’s very easy to make when it’s just a little baby. Some people will also hand-feed adults or attempt, illegally, to raise orphans as pets. Please be careful: this is very dangerous!

When raccoon roundworm enters the human body, the worm gets confused and ends up all over the body, eventually consuming the brain. Raccoons who lose their fear of humans often bite, leading to serious injuries and infections. Worst of all, raccoon-variant rabies does occur in our area and is nearly 100% fatal after symptoms appear in a person. Please don’t risk your life for a brief interaction with a cute animal.

That said, if you have not been scratched or bitten, and have not directly handled raccoon poop, you probably have nothing to worry about. Just get in touch with your doctor to be on the safe side, and be mindful in the future. Please respect wild animals from a distance.

Moving a Turtle: a Death Sentence

People will often try to help an Eastern box turtle by taking it to an area with less traffic or more vegetation. This is one of the worst things you can do for a turtle. Box turtles have small territories no more than a few acres wide. When taken out of those territories, they use an internal GPS system, guided by starlight, to return home. The majority of them don’t make it: a study by Davidson College found that most of them die shortly after being moved, as they encounter traffic and starvation on their long walk home.

Can a Fox Hurt my Dog?

We had several calls this spring about baby foxes that were orphaned because their mothers were shot, usually by a neighbor or acquaintance of the finder. One of the most common reasons the shooter gave for killing these animals out of season? “I didn’t want it to kill my dog.”

Foxes are far too small to prey on a dog, or even a cat. There are a few cases of foxes fighting with cats or dogs— occasionally leading to the death of one of the animals— but these cases occur exclusively when the fox gets cornered by the pet and lashes out in defense. A red fox is naturally shy and nervous, and enjoys a diet of mostly small rodents, with their largest typical prey being rabbits and small chickens. Foxes have a natural instinct to avoid preying on other carnivores, including cats and dogs, because it’s extremely dangerous to them.

It’s always a good idea to keep pets properly contained to avoid confrontations with wildlife. But your dog is much more likely to get killed by a crow or deer than a fox.

Any Mammal Can Get Rabies

For Fox Sake’s focus is on our local rabies vector species: skunks, foxes, and raccoons. But these animals aren’t “rabies vectors” simply because they can catch rabies, but rather, because they can live with it for several days or weeks and transmit it to other animals, including humans, during that time.

It’s possible for absolutely any mammal to have rabies. You’re extremely unlikely to get rabies from, say, a squirrel, because they don’t live long after getting sick and rarely survive attacks by rabid predators. You’re also unlikely to catch rabies from an opossum because they’re resistant (but not immune) to the virus.

However, you were bitten by any animal that was showing neurological symptoms like staggering, aggression, unusual vocalizing, and excessive drooling, it’s always important to call your local health department and your doctor to have the animal tested and to find out if you need treatment.

Raccoons: Terrible Pets

Every year between August and November, wildlife rehabilitators start getting dozens of calls: “I’ve been raising this raccoon as a pet and it’s gone crazy.”

Raccoons make great pets until some time between five and twelve months of age. Then, every wild instinct they have will kick in. Maybe they’ll still be friendly at times, but those cute, cuddly moments are interspersed with unpredictable bouts of destructive behavior and aggression. Most raccoons raised as pets ultimately end up being euthanized, either because they find their pets unmanageable or because the animal is seized by law enforcement after it hurts someone. The “lucky” raccoons are released in the wild but, having imprinted on humans, they lack the skills necessary to thrive. Only small fraction of pet raccoons actually get to live out their lives in human families.

Trash pandas deserve so much better. Please respect raccoons as the wild animals they are.

Should I Kill A Fox? It Might Have Rabies!

“It might have rabies,” is one of the leading reasons people give for killing wild foxes. Foxes and cats each account for about 6% of rabies cases per year, but, fortunately, no one suggests that we mass-murder stray kittens. Let’s have the same respect for wild animals, instead of slaughtering them because of the small risk that they might be sick. You can protect your family from rabies by having your pets vaccinated and by never approaching or handling a wild animal. If you do see a wild animal showing rabies symptoms, report it promptly to your local health department and animal control. Senseless killing isn’t the answer.

Will a Mother Animal Abandon a Handled Baby?

You should never handle a wild animal because it stresses them and can spread disease, but it’s entirely a myth that a mother will abandon her young because of unfamiliar smells. This is not true of any animal species. If you, or a child, already handled a baby animal and it is not hurt or orphaned, put it back where you found it (and call your doctor if you were bitten or scratched). The mother will return for her baby, even if she isn’t nearby right now. A mother’s love is stronger than the scent of a human hand.

Leave Box Turtles Alone!

An Eastern box turtle should NEVER be relocated, or brought home as a pet. These precious animals are considered to be threatened and endangered, with the pet trade and personal “kidnapping” being among of their biggest risks. When handled, they experience extreme stress but don’t have the strength or speed to get away. Keeping a wild box turtle as a pet is deadly for the turtle due to their strict nutritional needs, and it is usually illegal, as well. If you see a wild turtle crossing the road, simply help it along in the way it was going. If it’s not in the road, please leave where it is and admire your turtle neighbor from afar.

Raccoon-Proofing Your Bird Feeders

Raccoons are very smart and agile, so you may sometimes encounter a crafty coon who has figured out how to raid bird feeders. As much of a pain as this might be, there are several solutions that don’t involve trapping or killing the trash panda. Here are some things to try:

-Hang your feeders on a wire, clothesline, or very thin feeder pole. With few exceptions, a raccoon isn’t going to have the acrobatic skills necessary to access these feeders.

-Bring your feeders inside at night. Raccoons are primarily nocturnal and will typically only be visiting your feeders at night.

-Consider using spicy birdseed mixes. Most songbirds can’t taste hot pepper, but mammals can. A raccoon or squirrel will usually avoid a bird feeder after tasting burning-hot seed a few times.

Hunting Coyotes? Prepare for Dangerous Dogs!

Image by David Dewitt, thecozycoffee.com

Ecosystems will always have predators. That’s why feral dogs are so successful in places where native predators have been eliminated. Nature always fills the gaps.

When we killed the wolves in the eastern U.S., coyotes moved into the wolf’s former range. If we killed all the coyotes, the hole in the ecosystem would be filled by feral dogs— with disastrous consequences.

Domestic dogs are man’s best friend, but an abused, neglected, feral, or stray dog is a much bigger threat to humans and livestock than a coyote could ever be. If you want to protect people, pets, and livestock— let the shy, nervous, relatively small coyote live in peace or we would have a much larger problem. Keep your pets and livestock contained and install motion-activated flood lights if you’re concerned.