Following last week’s report from the Philadelphia Health Department that a raccoon captured near the Valley Green Inn in Wissahickon Park tested positive for rabies after biting a hiker, a raccoon spotted this week has some West Mt. Airy residents concerned.
The animal in question has not been captured or tested, so its status is unconfirmed. But given last week’s episode, an encounter by a Blue Bell Hill dog owner earlier this week was cause for serious concern.
Dog vs. Raccoon
The local woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, told NewsWorks she was walking her dog at 7:30 p.m. on Blue Bell Hill Park’s main trail, close to the Park Line and Horter entrance. As she took the path past the large rocks, stream and concrete pipe at that part of the trail, she suddenly noticed that she was eye level with a raccoon. It was a startling encounter, because it was still light out, and raccoons typically are not active until evening.
According to the woman’s story, “it hissed and made noises.” She lost control of her dog, which immediately attacked the raccoon. The raccoon delivered a serious bite to the dog’s hind leg.
This northwest resident, though shaken, did exactly the right thing by driving straight to the vet.
Dr. James Simpson of Main Street Animal Clinic in Manayunk examined the dog and advised the owner to contact local police and animal control. She followed their advice, and a police officer arrived at her home shortly afterward.
“There does seem to be a reason to worry,” she says.
Her vet, while ensuring all the proper precautions for an animal bite, including a rabies booster for the dog, emphasized that it was not out of the ordinary for the raccoon to respond to a dog’s attack with a bite, and since despite a search, no-one could local the animal in question, its status is not confirmed.
Any strangely-behaving animal should be avoided and immediately reported to local police.
According to the dog owner, Dr. Simpson urges all residents to realize that if their pet has been attacked or bitten by an animal, it is crucial to avoid touching the affected pet in any way that could let the attacking animal’s saliva contact the skin, because the rabies virus can enter the body through tiny cuts.
Many animals can get rabies
Not all animals, even if they are acting in a strange or aggressive way, are carriers of the virus. But since last week’s confirmed case of rabies, extreme caution is warranted. Rabies can affect a wide variety of mammals common in Philadelphia parks, including fox, deer, and skunks. Cats can also be affected, and like dogs, are required by Pennsylvania law to have up-to-date rabies vaccinations from the time they are three months old.
Any human who suspects exposure to the rabies virus through a bite or scratch from an affected animal should seek immediate medical care for preventive treatment. Without swift treatment, the rabies virus is almost always fatal in humans.
Encounters like the one in Blue Bell Hill this week should remind local pet owners how important it is to keep vaccinations up to date. It is crucial that all pets in the area be closely supervised and kept on-leash.
“We were very lucky,” says the dog owner in this week’s incident. “I wasn’t bitten and I’m relieved to say my dog is healing.”