Sunday, February 12, 2017

Murder? Revisiting the Death Penalty for Renegade Raccoons

On September 21st 2014 a New York raccoon made headlines by crashing into a beauty shop, and sending the NYPD on a very photogenic “wild goose chase”.  The pictures in this news article document the dramatic capture of “Lil Rocky”, the Bronx beauty raccoon, as he evaded both capture and tranquilizer darts.  However, the fate of the affectionately named “Lil Rocky” becomes quite tragic when visiting the Animal Care and Control’s comment on this story: “ renegade raccoons are typically euthanized so their brains can be tested for rabies”. 
Image credit: J.C. Rice- NY Post

How common is rabies in the United States, and why did Lil Rocky have to be euthanized?

Humans are scared of rabies virus infections as the death generally occurs 2-10 days after symptoms emerge, and the extreme rarity of survival makes a diagnosis of rabies essentially a death sentence. This is ironic considering that the electron micrograph appearance for this virus appears to have a bullet shaped morphology.
It wasn’t until Louis Pasteur and Émile Roux developed a vaccine in 1885 that survival became more common. While the current vaccine prevents rabies virus infection, it also acts as a treatment once someone has been exposed to the virus, thus if an animal bite does occur rapid vaccination is lifesaving.

Due to the mass vaccination of pets and domestic animals for rabies, only about 1-2 reported cases of human rabies infection occur annually in the U.S., and almost all of these cases are the result of human contact with wild animals.  Raccoons accounted for 30.2% of the total number of rabid animals diagnosed in 2014 by the CDC, and geographically these rabid raccoons reside on the east coast.  
Image credit: CDC webpage

Considering the deadly nature of the virus, the concentration of rabid raccoons on the East coast, and the erratic behavior of the raccoon, euthanasia was the appropriate choice.  If a stay of execution had been ordered, and the raccoon observed for a few days to see if rabies symptoms developed, these symptoms would have included aggression, which would have put nearby humans and animals at risk for infection. 

-Cynthia Taylor 

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