TURNER – Fritz Gurschick was sitting at his kitchen table earlier this month when he heard what he assumed was a flock of wild turkeys.

He put down his coffee cup and rushed to the window.

He immediately realized that the noise didn’t come from turkeys. It came from his 92-pound mutt, Klondike.

A raccoon was latched onto the dog’s neck.

Gurschick, who lives in a wooded area in Turner, ran outside and kicked the raccoon until it let go of his dog.

Then he grabbed his rifle, followed the raccoon into the woods and shot it.

The raccoon was taken to the state’s laboratory where it tested positive for rabies. It was the second case of rabies confirmed in Androscoggin County that week.

“In Maine, rabies can show up any time of year because we have people out during all four seasons,” said Dr. Robert Gholson, the state’s public health veterinarian.

Overall, the number of confirmed rabies cases in Maine is down compared to last year. In 2003, a total of 72 animals tested positive.

So far this year, technicians at the state lab have tested 51 animals with rabies. They include raccoons, skunks, bats, woodchucks and foxes.

Of those animals, 10 were found in Androscoggin County, three in Franklin County and one in Oxford County.

Wendell Strout, the animal control officer for Lewiston, Turner, Greene, Leeds and Wales, suspects that the number of rabies cases will continue to rise in urban areas, such as Lewiston and Auburn, as development in rural areas increases.

“The animals are left with nowhere else to go and they come into the cities,” Strout said.

The best source of protection, Strout and Gholson said, is keeping household pets vaccinated, since they are the ones most likely to come into contact with rabid wildlife.

Cases of rabies in humans are rare. Nationally, there are between one and three each year. Maine hasn’t had a case since the 1930s, according to statistics kept by the Maine Bureau of Health.

“But just because we haven’t had a human case since then, doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly,” Gholson said.

Every year, Gholson said, 30,000 to 70,000 people throughout the world die from rabies. Many of those deaths occur in places that don’t have access to the vaccinations available in the United States.

In addition to keeping pets immunized, Gholson urged people to teach their children not to play with stray and wild animals. He also recommends immediately washing a bite with soap and water.

Anyone who comes in contact with an infected animal should be treated, he said.

While rabies shots cannot cure rabies, they can prevent a person from becoming infected.

Gurschick, his wife and three other family members who helped care for Klondike after he was attacked by the raccoon are all receiving the series of five shots.

As for Klondike, whose vaccinations were up to date, he has been placed under quarantine for 45 days.

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