UTICA TOWNSHIP - It was a pleasant Friday afternoon around 2 p.m. last week. My plan was simple. I’d travel to Prairie du Chien attend to some things at the courthouse and in the county administration building and return home by 5 p.m.
It seemed simple anyway. The only thing to do was round up the dogs and get them inside before I left. I went outside after them and heard the border collie start barking around the corner of the house. The Australian shepherd and I started around the corner and he took off barking.
I soon discovered the pair tearing into a small raccoon. Oh great!
I yelled at both dogs to move back and for some reason they did exactly that immediately. My plan was to let the raccoon run off or head up a tree. Then, I’d get the dogs secured and take off.
It was still a simple plan. However, as the dogs backed away from the coon, the beleaguered animal had other ideas. Instead of escaping, it came running at me and bit my leg about four inches below my left knee. It bit through a pair of jeans and a pair of long underwear. It didn’t hurt much, but it bit me.
This was not a good sign. So, I made a beeline to the house and retrieved the shotgun. The dogs had resumed their attack in my absence.
I called them off again and again they immediately moved back. I shot the raccoon and it died directly.
I put it on top of the compost pile. The gun-shy Australian raced toward the house and Gillian already had the door open for him. The border collie and I also returned house directly, but at bit slower pace.
In the bathroom, I removed some clothing and sure enough there was a small wound and the slightest amount of blood that had collected in the long underwear.
Gillian arrived and began her nursing routine. It involved the use of alcohol being rubbed-yes rubbed into the wound. It would prove the most painful part of the entire experience.
When she deemed it to be sufficiently disinfected by the alcohol, she dried it ever so slightly, put some antibiotic cream on it and tightly secured a bandage to it.
Everything was fine, but…did the animal have rabies??
I called a farm friend for advice and his buddy walked in as I told the story on speaker phone. They both advised me that I would face a series of shots if I went to a clinic. They also advised that in their opinion the animal was unlikely to have rabies.
One of them Googled rabies in Wisconsin and informed me that there had only been four cases of rabies transmitted from animals to humans in Wisconsin since 1959, and in all cases the transmitting animal was a bat. The last such reported case was in 2010.
The trouble is I remembered the 1959 case involved a farmer in Blue River and he died from it. It was untreatable. I remembered this because I had included the story in the ‘Years Ago’ column when I worked as a reporter at the Dial.
Nevertheless, it sounded like the probability of getting rabies was about like the probability of winning the lottery–pretty slim.
That was it. I would ignore it and go to Prairie. No, wait a second it wasn’t that simple anymore.
Gillian informed me that I should call the Hirsch Clinic in Viroqua and see what they said. I knew they would have me come in for shots.
So, I called. The woman who answered the phone listened to the story. I told her although the skin was broken there was no visible hole in the jeans or the long underwear. After taking the information, she said to stay on the line and she would ask someone about what I should do. I was momentarily hopeful I wouldn’t need to go in for treatment, but that ended quickly.
The woman returned and informed me that I needed to go to the Vernon Memorial Emergency Room to get it treated.
After answering some questions at the front desk of the ER, I was escorted to a treatment room where I talked with two nurses, whose names I now forget. They had more questions and had a look at the wound after it was unbandaged.
Shortly, Dr. Andy came into the room and took a look at it. He told me there would be some shots at this point and then I would have to return for a single shot on three different occasions over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, they determined that I had shot poor Rocky Raccoon and the animal could be tested for rabies at the state lab of hygiene in Madison.
Along the way, the hospital called the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department and my friend and neighbor Deputy Justin Fortney was assigned to the case.
Somewhere along the line, he contacted the Crawford County Director of Public Health Cindy Riniker and learned that the animal should be refrigerated by not frozen.
The hospital relayed that information to me and I told Gillian just after she put Rocky into the freezer. She quickly retrieved the body and parked it in cool room off the back porch that is above freezing.
Eventually, it came time for the nurse to administer the SHOTS and this is the important part: IT DID NOT HURT.
The nurse began with a series of a small needle prick shots around the wound. There were 10 or 12 such pricks, which DID NOT HURT AT ALL. A small amount of vaccine was injected with each prick.
Then there was a shot in the arm. It was like any tetanus shot, flu shot, etc. It also DID NOT HURT AT ALL.
The most pain associated with the whole event was neither the bite nor the shots, it was the aggressive application of alcohol to the wound to sterilize it.
Yes, along the way we dragged Dr. Steven Anderson, our veterinarian, into the event. He assured us that both dogs were vaccinated against rabies.
On Saturday morning, I called Deputy Fortney and asked if I could drive Rocky down to the Wisconsin Lab of Hygiene for the rabies test. It turns out the lab doesn’t have hours on Saturday or Sunday, which seemed odd.
Anyway, come Monday, I called Cindy Riniker at Crawford County Public Health and it was agreed I could bring in Rocky–well actually just Rocky’s head, which I had severed from the rest of his body on Saturday morning on Deputy Fortney’s instructions. Anyway, I could bring the head to the health department and they would get it shipped to Madison to be tested. I no longer had time to drive it down there myself.
So, I took my nicely packaged head to the county administration building in Prairie du Chien late Monday morning. Public health’s Sharon Steele came down to get it. She was more than relieved to find the head was confined inside a firmly taped shut cardboard box. In a Ziploc bag packed in tight by old issues of the Independent-Scout.
Tuesday afternoon, the phone rang and it was Sharon Steele. She happily told me the results on Rocky were negative for rabies. So, the shots were over and I would not have to return the following two Fridays to complete the regimen.
So, here’s what I learned and what I want to share with the readers of the Independent-Scout.
The shots involved in rabies treatment DO NOT HURT. The biggest trouble is you need to get four of them spaced out over two weeks, but it is simple and quick and DOES NOT HURT.
The second part involves proper handling of the animal’s body, which did the biting–if you are fortunate enough to have it. DO NOT FREEZE IT (that destroys the sample), REFIGERATE IT. Also try at all cost to AVOID SHOOINTG IT IN THE HEAD (because that could destroy brain tissue) needed for the test.
Well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I learned the primary animals with rabies in the United States are bats, skunks, foxes and, yes, raccoons–not necessarily in that order.
By the way, thanks to everyone involved for their help. My farm friend texted me the next day saying he had rethought his advice to not seek treatment and was glad to hear I had gone in for it. I’d urge anyone bitten to seek treatment.
I also want to thank everyone involved for their help and being so understanding. That includes the Hirsch Clinic, the nurses and doctor at the VMH ER, Deputy Fortney and Deputy Shawn Lenzenvdorf. Crawford County Director of Public Health Cindy Riniker and Sharon Steele at public health. My friend Dr. Steve Anderson at Apple Valley Veterinary and the folks at the Wisconsin Lab of Hygiene, who did the test confirming Rocky was negative for rabies. And, of course thanks to Gillian and her now infamous alcohol scrub.One more thing, be careful around wild animals– I never thought there was a chance this raccoon would bite me. I mean I wasn’t going near it, although he might have felt differently. Be careful! Think about the situation, which I really did not do in this case.