1) Pick up baby raccoons and take them away
- Rarely does this end well. It’s illegal in many areas (including Ontario). Raccoons don’t do well long-term in households for various reasons (their curious and destructive nature being a big one). And, they are potential sources of a number of zoonotic diseases (rabies being a big one but not the only concern).
2) Take them to a bar
- This could be simplified to “take them anywhere.” The more people encounter the raccoon, the more people might be exposed to the pathogens it carries.
Seems like common sense, and yet people picking up cute raccoon kits and taking them somewhere (though not necessarily a bar) seems to happen all the time. A recent incident in Pendletown, NY, highlights the issues. A woman picked up a baby raccoon from a litter of 13 and took it to Mr. Quiggley’s Dead Dog Saloon, where it interacted with multiple people. Because raccoons are rabies reservoirs, the raccoon had to be euthanized for testing. The rest of the litter was also tracked down and euthanized for testing, apparently, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If the raccoon to which people were exposed could be tested, that provides all the information that is needed from a rabies exposure standpoint. Maybe there was concern that other people would pick them up or maybe she put the baby back in with the litter after it’s trip to the bar and no one could tell which one it was. Regardless, the raccoons probably didn’t have rabies but the person’s actions led to their deaths.
Beyond rabies, there are a few other potential concerns:
- Baylisascaris procyonis: The raccoon roundworm is very common, and it’s likely that eggs of this parasite were being shed in feces, or that the haircoat of the raccoon was contaminated with feces containing the eggs. The latter is the main concern because eggs that have been in the environment are the ones that can infect people. Infection in people is rare, but the parasite can cause very nasty neurological disease so it’s one to be aware of.
- Leptospirosis: Raccoons are a host of Leptospira bacteria, which are shed in urine. Contact with urine isn’t uncommon when handling young animals, and urine that gets into cuts or the eyes, mouth or nose can result in transmission.
Hopefully not many people actually handled the critter and they washed their hands (but sometimes common sense is surprisingly uncommon).
Take home message: Leave wildlife in the wild.