Meeko, the chummy, charming raccoon companion of Disney’s Pocahontas / Disney
(Where have those paws been?)
Let’s talk about rabies for a moment, shall we?
Like most kids I had a vague idea of what rabies was growing up, but it centered mainly on the terror of taking a shot of anti-rabies vaccine to the stomach in case of infection.
Now, an urban-dwelling adult removed from deep summer back yard fears, rabies isn’t something I think a lot about. That is, until the Allegheny County Executive’s office sent out two press releases in as many weeks regarding the prevention and eradication of rabies in the area.
Rabies attacks the central nervous system, producing initial symptoms as innocuous as weakness, headache, or fever. If the virus goes unchecked, however, one’s steady decline is marked by anxiety, insomnia, full or partial paralysis and ends in death.
Six reported rabid raccoons and six rabid bats have the County on high alert. During these lovely days of summer, pets are vulnerable to being bitten, which increases the chances that their humans might suffer a chomp to the leg.
To prevent that sort of thing, two programs are under way.
For the twelfth year running, the county is participating in the Raccoon Rabies Vaccination Campaign, which sounds as though citizen-soldiers are taking up arms in the urban theater to face the enemy; he of clean paws and reprehensible snacking habits.
As it turns out, that image is not too far from the truth: Health Department workers, wearing protective gloves and driving vehicles marked as part of the Rabies Control Team, hand-distributed 230,000 raccoon baits laced with rabies vaccines.
The release asked for city residents’ help:
To ensure raccoons are hungry and will eat the bait, the Health Department also is asking the public to make a special effort to bring indoors pet food that raccoons might eat and make sure garbage containers kept outdoors have secure lids, perhaps even tied down with a rope or bungee cord, to keep away raccoons foraging for food.
As for bats, they can squeeze through opening as small as 3/8 of an inch; a nibble from such a diminutive creature might go unnoticed. For that reason, the county has asked that any contact with a bat be reported to the Health Department by calling 412-687-ACHD (2243).
If you are concerned, the press release recommends the following:
If you find a bat and are unsure whether you’ve been exposed, wear a pair of heavy-duty gloves and capture the bat by placing a container such as a large bowl over it and sliding a piece of cardboard underneath to trap the bat inside. Cover the container with a lid or cap. Call your local animal control officer to capture the bat and euthanize it for testing, if you are unable to do so yourself.
Starving out raccoons and trapping bats aren’t things I feel particularly equipped to do. Hats off to the County employees and volunteers who are doing just that. They’re all Atticus Finches in my book.