Animal control officers and clinics busy with rabies scare

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BRUNSWICK — People in the Brunswick area are on edge after a recent spate of incidents where rabid wild animals have attacked residents or their pets. Brunswick police have received several calls a day from people reporting animals in their yard they fear are infected.

Patrolling Raymond Road on Thursday, Animal Control Officer Heidi Nelson, a 14-year veteran, spotted a young fox by the road. Nelson said she has no definitive way, at first glance, to tell if an animal is rabid. Warning indicators include aggression, walking in circles and signs that it has tangled with another animal — smelling like a skunk or having a face full of porcupine quills, for example.

This fox, however, looked healthy, acted normally. Nelson said it’s not unusual, as young foxes are starting to hunt on their own this time of year. If it had been in the end stages of rabies when it can transmit the virus, she said, it likely would have been chasing cars.

Still, appearances can be deceiving.

Although it appeared healthy and normal, that doesn’t mean it’s not infected with rabies.

“I like to view my job as 95 percent education and 5 percent enforcement,” Nelson said. “I really feel it’s my job to education the public on state laws, town ordinances and also about animal behavior — whether it be wild animals or domesticated animals.”

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Much of her time is spent responding to dogs at large or those left in hot vehicles. Since news of the rabies cases, though, most of her calls are of wildlife on people’s property. One caller had a squirrel in her bedroom and wanted help getting it out.

“We want you to call if you feel there is wildlife acting aggressively and your safety could be involved,” Nelson said.

Police warned the public of the outbreak last week that after a fourth confirmed case of rabies in three weeks, and the public appears quick to report instances of wildlife behaving badly.

Recent examples include residents complaining of aggressive turkeys, though only mammals carry rabies, as she had to explain. She had also responded to a report of a person in the Meadowbrook area who was apparently chased by a coyote, though she found no sign of the animal.

On her patrol Thursday, Nelson responded to a resident on Hawthorn Street who reported a sickly looking raccoon. Nelson found a young, lethargic raccoon in the resident’s window well. Lifting the animal carefully with a catch pole — a combination pole and snare used to restrain wildlife — Nelson saw something wrong with the raccoon’s eyes, possibly as a result of an injury or neurological issue. After removing it from the residence and conferring with a Maine Warden, police later euthanized the animal.

Response: More vaccinations

Brunswick has lots of woods. That means interactions between wildlife and humans, as well as with domestic animals.

It’s a law that people have their dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies, and the Coastal Humane Society offers a rabies clinic monthly in the Midcoast for $10 per animal.

“They’re low cost, designed to help members of the community that are in need and may not be able to afford a vet visit, so we try to provide services to all of our community members,” said Kate Griffith, the director of community relations for the nonprofit.

Coastal Humane’s next clinic is Saturday, hosted by the Veterinary Clinic on Maine Street.

Owners should make sure their animal is due for vaccinations and to bring their pet’s vaccination records if possible. Over-vaccinating can cause adverse side effects and has been linked to cancer and immune problems.

The Veterinary Clinic has walk-in hours — 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday — where they provide $23 vaccinations.

The Veterinary Clinic has seen 86 pets received a rabies vaccination since June 1 — 59 dogs and 27 cats, a higher volume than usual, said Dr. Erica Parthum, a veterinarian at the Veterinary Clinic.

“We definitely see animals that have attacked or had run-ins with wild animals,” she said, such as porcupine and skunks. “We do have animals who come in with wounds of unknown origin. Therefore we don’t know if that animal is potentially exposed to rabies so we booster them.”

A pet that has an encounter with an animal that may be rabid will be quarantined for between 10 and 45 days, depending on whether the pet’s history of vaccination. If a pet has never been vaccinated, euthanasia is recommended, or it may stay at a quarantine facility for four months.

“This is something that people can get as well and it’s deadly to animals and people,” Parthum said. “I just see it as a public service to make sure all animals are vaccinated so they are protected, the owners are safe, and no one hopefully has to go through the painful after exposure injections.”

Look, but not too closely

As of Friday, Brunswick police have not reported any attacks by rabid animals since June 29, when a man on Bouchard Drive was attacked by a rabid fox. It was the fourth such incident in three weeks.

In Maine, there were 33 cases of rabies reported in the first six months of 2018. However, there hasn’t been a case of human rabies in Maine since 1937.

Nelson advised that people should enjoy the wildlife, she said, but it should be from their kitchen window or from their vehicle. Maine’s critters carry other diseases, she says, and they have teeth.

It’s not usual to have four cases of rabies in a single area, she said; what is unusual is that the incidents occurred in such quick succession.

If there’s one message she has, Nelson said, is don’t panic.

“We live in Maine,” she said, “and need to learn to co-habitate with wildlife.”

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Brunswick Animal Control Officer Heidi Nelson removes a sick raccoon from a residence on Hawthorne Street on Thursday, possibly hit by a car or suffering from a neurological issue. Police later euthanized the animal. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)Jack, a 13-month-old bernese mountain dog belonging to Kristin Casey of Brunswick, came in for a nail clipping and got his rabies vaccination Thursday morning at the Veterinary Clinic on Maine Street in Brunswick with the help of veterinary technicians Sherrye Rankins, left, and Karen Loggins. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

  • What: Coastal Clinic
  • When: Saturday, July 14, 9-11 a.m.
  • Where: The Veterinary Clinic, 304 1/2 Maine St., Brunswick
  • Details: The Coastal Humane Society offers monthly Coastal Clinics with rabies vaccine for $10.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR PET IS EXPOSED TO RABIES

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, here is what you should do if you or your pet were exposed to an animal with rabies:

1. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.

2. Call your health care provider and they will help you decide if you need to be treated for rabies. The Maine CDC can also help assess rabies exposures and recommend control measures.

3. Contact your town’s animal control officer if the attacking animal is domestic, through your local or state police.

4. Contact your local game warden if attacked by a wild animal by calling state police.

5. If your pet was bitten or scratched by an animal, call your veterinarian and the animal control officer or game warden.

WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR PEOPLE EXPOSED TO RABIES?

Treatment is a combination of vaccine and immunoglobulin shots, called “post-exposure prophylaxis.” The number and type of shots needed depends on a person’s health and whether he or she has been vaccinated for rabies in the past.

An unvaccinated person should get four doses of rabies vaccine — one dose right away, along with a dose of immunoglobulin, and three more doses of vaccine on the third, seventh and 14th day after the first shot. A person with a weakened immune system should get a fifth dose 28 days after the first shot. Those vaccinated should get two doses of the rabies vaccine.

Information from the Maine CDC’s Rabies Fact Sheet

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