Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rabid Raccoon found at Inwood Park this month.

You can read the story here, but to sum up, it's extremely rare for animals infected with rabies to be found on Manhattan Island, which is why this case is getting a little more attention. Many more cases have been reported for The Bronx, and presumably this unfortunate raccoon made its way across the narrow stretch of water separating North Manhattan from the mainland.

Raccoons are not rare at all in North Manhattan, of course. I've seen them cavorting happily in Central Park in broad daylight. Seeing them during the daytime does NOT mean they are sick, though sightings are far more common after dark. They are primarily nocturnal, but not exclusively so, and the same is true of the Striped Skunk, another potential rabies carrier, which is also a common resident of Manhattan parks--our friend Smarties, frequently featured on this blog, got seriously sprayed by a skunk in Fort Tryon Park very recently. This was a most unhappy occasion for both Smarties and her person Caroline (who hastily prepared and repeatedly applied this home remedy. But the critter in question was clearly in the pink of health, and exhibiting the normal expected behavior patterns associated with a skunk feeling pissed off at a dog trying to chase it like it was some kind of funny-looking cat. The nerve of those mutts.

Closer to home, I've twice spotted raccoons in Trinity Cemetery over the past few years--the heavily wooded section on the west side of Broadway, between 155th and 153rd Streets. On both occasions, the raccoon was visible from Broadway, but perched up high on rock outcroppings above the cemetery wall--well out of the reach of passing dogs. Good thing too--the first time Max saw one, he acted like he wanted to go up there and have it out.

No question there are raccoons and skunks all around us, and we just don't see them most of the time. That's very much by their choice, though it's partly because city folks mainly don't pay much notice to the natural world around them--Gotham has a much richer selection of wild fauna than most people realize.

However, if there was a major rabies epidemic in process, we'd be hearing about more than one infected raccoon. There's no reason to panic. Just make sure your dog is properly vaccinated. As the article linked above mentions, canine rabies has been eradicated from North America. But an unvaccinated dog or cat can still die from any other strain transmitted by any other mammal. And so can you, for that matter. But you've got a much better chance of getting struck by lightning.

Feral or free-roaming pet cats are actually one of the most dangerous rabies carriers in North America, transmitting the virus to humans in a growing number of cases--and regrettably, there are few communities that mandate licensing and vaccination for cats, as they do for dogs.

But raccoons and skunks, being far less agile than cats, present a particular danger to your dog, because he's got a much better chance of catching one. Peggy, our last dog, got into several confrontations with individuals of both species, but none of them were rabid, and nobody got hurt. She also was bitten on the posterior by a large dog-like creature in Van Cortlandt Park, most likely a wandering coyote (and the bite was definitely provoked). She got a rabies booster immediately afterwards, just in case. The only real injury was to her pride. But as I mentioned in the article just below this one, extra vaccinations are something to avoid whenever possible.

Wild animals are good at avoiding dogs, and even dogs with a strong prey drive usually know better than to come to grips with a large animal unaided. But the risk is always there, and not necessarily just in the depths of a large wooded park. Don't panic, but be aware of the potential dangers, and prepare yourself mentally for a potential confrontation. And if you think you've seen a rabid animal in Manhattan (or anywhere else), get in touch with the proper authorities at once.

But that being said, no dog has contracted rabies of any kind in New York City in a very very long time. If you've been making sure your dog is properly vaccinated, this is not a serious threat. But that doesn't mean your dog can't get bitten or scratched by an animal it chases after, which is quite bad enough. And from what I've heard about Smarties' recent run-in with that aforementioned skunk, there are fates worse than death.

Your dog knows far more than you about what animals live in the parks you walk through together. Try to remedy that situation to the best of your ability. We can all share this island and its few green spots quite happily, with a bit of care.


Carla said...

Hi there. I meant to post this on your site last week. I mentioned your site in the Manhattan Times Neighborhood Blogwatch last week. Hope you like the write-up.




Chris said...

Carla, I just read your column a day or so ago, and should have written already to say thanks. I really appreciated the kind words, all the more because they were so insightful. I try, as best as I can, to find a good balance between this blog being a personal expression and a public resource.

The next article I post here will strive to be a bit of both. If I ever get it posted, of course, but that's a blogger's perpetual lament.

Anonymous said...

There was a skunk in Inwood Hill Park (near the soccer field by the inlet) on Sunday July 26th that was not afraid of humans and behaving oddly (311 didn't seem to care).

Chris said...

While that could be a danger sign, the fact is that when skunks do feel like wandering about in daylight in search of food, they are often remarkably blase about the presence of humans. I've seen this myself, several times over the years. The only "odd" behavior from a skunk you need be concerned with would be extreme nervousness, staggering, foaming at the mouth, or aggression--skunks normally never want to fight anything, or run from anything either, because their chemical weaponry means they don't have to do either.

It's also a warning sign if the skunk seems very 'tame'--unconcerned about the presence of humans--however, in a city park, where animals are constantly in the presence of people, this is much less unusual behavior. Generally speaking, even city skunks don't particularly want to be near us, and merely tolerate our presence. So if it actually seems friendly, that is a matter for concern, though I'm sure there have been cases of people letting pet skunks go in a park (for which they shall burn in pet-owner hell forever).

If it happens again, I'd suggest heading over to the Urban Ecology Center by the estuary, and notifying the Park Rangers.

And make no mistake, even if that skunk hasn't even a touch of rabies, that is a dangerous situation for dog owners. You can ask Smarties' person. :)

britney said...

Oh really skunk what does it mean..
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