Berlin Police Chief Forced To Shoot Rabid Raccoon

BERLIN — Providing clear evidence of an ongoing, summer-long rabies problem in northern Worcester County, an aggressive raccoon shot and killed by Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing in a residential backyard on Burley Street on Tuesday morning has tested positive for the disease.
Police began tracking the aggressive raccoon early Tuesday morning in the area of Worcester Preparatory School and followed the animal throughout much of the morning before Downing ultimately shot and killed it in a backyard on Burley Street around 11 a.m. Downing said the raccoon had traveled a great distance through areas heavily populated with residents, including children, and pets.
“It really traveled a great distance through areas where kids and pets were playing,” he said. “We first made contact with it earlier in the day in the area of Worcester Prep and tracked it behind Buckingham Elementary to a residence on Burley Street.”
Downing said the pending threat of a clearly aggressive raccoon made the decision to shoot it an easy one.
“It was sniffing around a chicken coop in a backyard, and when I approached it for the first time, it was extremely aggressive toward me right off the bat,” he said. “Because of the potential danger to kids and pets and because the animal clearly appeared to be rabid, the decision was easy. We had to put it down before it caused any harm to kids or other animals.”
The raccoon was taken by Worcester County Animal Control to a testing facility in Baltimore, where it was determined to have been rabid. Downing said Berlin Police checked with residents in the area to see if there was any possible exposure to children or pets. The window for the entire incident was from about 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s incident continued a summer-long series of rabid encounters from one end of Worcester County to the other. In June, an aggressive raccoon approached a group of landscapers working near Northside Park in Ocean City and one of the workers had to be treated with shots for rabies, not because he had been bitten, but because he had come into contact with the rabid animal.
Strangely enough, the same landscaping crew was working in a different area of north Ocean City about five blocks away the next day when presumably the same raccoon attacked them again. The raccoon reportedly swam across a canal and came out of the water soaking wet and aggressively approached the landscaping crew, which ultimately hit it with a shovel and killed it. The dead raccoon was collected and later tested positive for rabies.
Between that incident in Ocean City in June and the shooting of a rabid raccoon in the Berlin backyard on Tuesday, there have been numerous confirmed cases in Worcester from Pocomoke to Bishopville and everywhere in between. There have been 27 confirmed cases of rabies in Worcester since the beginning the year, including a dozen or more since the beginning of summer.
All but three of the positive cases have been raccoons, with the others being gray foxes. In addition, there have been 25 other suspected rabies cases from Snow Hill to Berlin and from West Ocean City to Ocean City throughout the summer, but in those cases, the suspected animal was not captured or killed and could not provide a satisfactory specimen for testing.
Rabies is clearly an ongoing issue in Worcester County and affects local wildlife. The animals most frequently confirmed with rabies in the county are raccoons, foxes, skunks, groundhogs and cats. Any person, pet or other animal that may have had contact with that particular raccoon or other wildlife suspected of having rabies may be at risk for exposure to rabies. Any potential exposures should be reported immediately so a risk assessment can be done. To report any contact with or exposure to this particular raccoon or any other wildlife suspected of being rabid, call the Worcester County Health Department at 410-632-1100, or 410-352-3234.
If a pet has had contact with a wild or suspect animal, a veterinarian or the health department should be contacted. Wounds found on an outdoor pet from an encounter not witnessed should be treated as a possible rabies exposure. Appropriate management for pets will be determined and currently vaccinated animals should be re-boostered after exposure.
Reports of sick or aggressive wildlife or strays should be reported immediately so law enforcement can assess the situation and contain the suspect animal to minimize the potential for exposure to other pets or persons. Animals suspected of being rabid should then be made available for testing by the health department when warranted.
Meanwhile, the health department this week is offering tips to protect individuals and pets from rabies exposure. Pets should be vaccinated and those vaccinations should be kept current. Maryland law requires vaccination against rabies for all dogs, cats and ferrets over four months of age. Rabies vaccinations have limited times of protection, so pet owners should verify records.