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Kenneth Kieser: Critters in the woods can be dangerous

Staff Writer
The Examiner
A raccoon crawls across its hiding place of a hollow log shortly before dusk at Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania. Never treat wild animals like raccoons like domestic pets, and take precautions to avoid them, especially if they appear diseased.

Recently a young raccoon was sitting alongside a road that was well traveled. I was shocked to see a couple of young people walk up to the animal that did not move, a risky act considering that animal likely had rabies.

They both sat down beside the raccoon and tried to pet it until I chased them away. That raccoon eventually died close to where it sat, a definite sign of serious illness, possibly rabies.

Being seen and acting tame is not their normal nature. Raccoons tend to be nocturnal – or in other words, they only come out at night and are extremely shy of humans, avoiding all contact. Wild raccoons are not friendly animals, except in cartoon animation and can be vicious. It may be difficult for younger kids to understand the difference between a sick raccoon and the neighbor’s puppy.

Midwestern states have been infected with distemper in raccoons, foxes, coyotes and skunks over the past several years. Hopefully we will have less of that this year, but beware of the possible dangers.

Make sure your children, dogs and cats stay away from these diseased animals, even if they are vaccinated for distemper. Your child could receive some vicious bites and cuts from the raccoon’s teeth and claws. A raccoon can kill a dog or cat, especially smaller animals.

Signs of distemper: Distemper may make an animal seem acting drunk, disoriented or confused. You may see normally nocturnal animals in broad daylight. They seem bold, not shying away from people or pets. Infected animals will walk extremely slow, stopping between steps to rest or lie down.

Infected raccoons often act as though they have a broken leg, or as though their rear end doesn’t work, dragging it by their front paws. They may even walk in circles, over and over again, seemingly unaware of anything around them. Others may attempt to walk, falling over, climbing and then falling.

Seizures may look like a raccoon is shivering from the cold, other times it may appear they are chewing on bubble gum, or lifting their front lip as though they are growling. These are sick animals beyond feeling fright that will attack if bothered by a well-meaning human or animal.

The only good news is humans or domestic animals with up to date distemper shots are safe from this disease. But wild animals may seem harmless but will still bite or claw, so please avoid them.

SKUNK SPRAY: Some animals like skunks may approach you through sheer curiosity. Some that have taken their approach as a friendly gesture may have been rewarded by a horrible spray, dogs especially.

Dogs are curious by nature and like to investigate other species. Problem is, your dog may be struck by a sulfur-like chemical that is similar to tear gas from the rear scent glands of the skunk.

This happened to us years ago when our greyhound took a blast of skunk spray in his face. We didn’t immediately realize what had happened and the panicked dog ran in the door and straight to our living room rug where he rubbed his face, trying to remove the horrible substance. We had a commercial rug cleaner come in next morning but the carpet was ruined and quickly replaced. The entire house reeked of that horrible smell until we changed the carpet.

Hopefully this will never happen to you, but if it does, try to calm your dog down before first gently rinsing its eyes with cool, clean water.

The following are suggestions by veterinarians for ridding your dog of this terrible smell:

Use one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide – never use stronger than 3% – to go along with a 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of dishwashing soap.

Wash your dog with the mixture immediately after he’s been sprayed. Wearing rubber gloves, rub the mixture into your dog’s coat while avoiding his eyes, wait about 20 minutes before washing the mixture out of your dog’s fur, then bathe your dog with dog shampoo, and rinse well. Repeat the process 2-3 more times as needed.

Sadly, dogs can vomit if they lick the mixture. It, too, can be flammable, so don’t smoke while using this mixture. The hydrogen peroxide can cause some bleaching on black dogs, so the longer it stays on, the more bleaching becomes possible.

Tomato juice is another possible solution. Bathe with dog shampoo, dry him off, then cover him in tomato juice, saturating the coat completely, let the juice soak for 10 to 20 minutes before rinsing it out then wash your dog again with dog shampoo. You may have to bathe the dog several times to get rid of the orange coloration caused by tomato juice. There, too, are commercial shampoos your vet may recommend. Vinegar is another possible solution.

Should you see a skunk, walk away quickly as possible. Skunks only attack when threatened or protecting their young. They are generally around when it’s dark, so beware when you let rover outside.

Thanks to the Missouri Department of Conservation for some of this information.

– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at