A Kennebunkport woman took an injured raccoon into her home and now she and the game warden who removed it are being treated for rabies.
Criminal charges could come next.
When Game Warden Eric Blanchard went to the woman’s house last week to remove the raccoon, it bit them both. The animal later tested positive for rabies.
Because the woman had taken in the injured animal illegally, she could face charges for keeping a wild animal in captivity without a permit, according to officials.
It was the first confirmed case of rabies in Kennebunkport this year, police said. Blanchard and the woman are both undergoing treatment for rabies, which involves a series of injections.
“This is kind of a worst-case scenario,” said Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service. “It’s a real reminder that this is the reason why it’s not a safe thing to do.”
MacDonald said it is not uncommon for people to take in wild animals but said they should not do so because it is both illegal and dangerous.
“People have an instinct to want to take care of animals. Most people understand the risk involved with taking a wild animal into their home,” he said. “They think they’re doing the animal a favor, but wild animals can be very dangerous and unpredictable, especially ones prone to rabies.”
Police said the woman was bitten several times.
Blanchard, the 2017 game warden of the year, was wearing a thick rabies glove similar to those used to handle raptors with talons when the raccoon tried to bite through the thumb. Blanchard did not believe the raccoon had broken through his skin, but was advised to go through treatment for rabies exposure as a precaution, MacDonald said.
MacDonald said the warden service would not make Blanchard available to speak to a reporter about the incident.
In Maine, it is illegal to keep wildlife in captivity without a proper permit, MacDonald said. Permits and licenses are issued to people who regularly come into contact with wild animals, including wildlife rehabilitators and people who relocate nuisance animals.
Possessing wildlife without a permit is punishable with a minimum fine of $50 per day the animal was in a person’s possession.
MacDonald said he is not yet releasing the name of the woman because it is likely she will face charges. It was not known how long she had been keeping the raccoon before the game warden arrived.
The attack in Kennebunkport follows a number of high-profile rabies incidents this year in Brunswick, where seven people have been bitten by rabid animals. Most of the Brunswick cases have involved foxes.
There have been 48 confirmed cases of rabies in animals in Maine so far this year, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The only other rabies case in York County this year other than the Kennebunkport raccoon was a raccoon found in Acton in April.
As of Aug. 15, a total 28 raccoons had tested positive for rabies statewide this year. Other animals that tested positive for rabies include eight gray foxes, six skunks, three bats, one cat, one woodchuck and one otter. The rabid otter was captured in a video chasing children on a beach in Rockland in June.
In 2017, 67 animals tested positive for rabies, including 31 raccoons.
Kennebunkport police said in a Facebook post that wild animals should be left alone outside. Local police or the Maine Warden Service should be contacted when wild animals appear injured or have become a nuisance.
“In no circumstances do we tell people to take (wild animals) into their homes or even touch them,” MacDonald said.