Rocky Raccoon By Mort Laitner
The azure-blue summer sky was lined with feathery cirrus clouds, as Nancy, a five- year old blond-headed girl, was streaking across Naranja’s Plants-Are-Us Nursery. She was looking at a burly raccoon named, “Rocky”. Rocky Raccoon was chained to an olive tree.
As the girl reached over to pet the raccoon, the scared carnivore snarled his teeth at the child. However, the message did not register. As her hand inched closer to Rocky’s mouth, Rocky’s teeth sunk deep into the Nancy’s left hand. Nancy’s parents (Lil and Dan) heard their child’s curdling howl. Her parents hurriedly drove their crying, bleeding child to their family doctor. They worried that Nancy would need to undergo a series of painful rabies vaccine shots. The physician taught the family about rabies12.
The Doctor reported the bite to Health Department’s Epidemiology Program. The family wanted the raccoon tested13 so their child could forego the painful shots.
The telephone call came into the legal department, requesting a court order to search the property and seize the raccoon for testing. The Health Department attorney knew the routine; he drafted his lawsuit; he called the father of the girl to testify; he gathered the Health Department’s veterinarian, Dr. John Black, and walked across the street to the court house. The attorney introduced himself to the Judge, who carefully listened to the victim’s father, and the veterinarian about the transmission of rabies and the risk of death to the child.
The Judge also listened to the testimony of the owners of Ricky. But after hearing of the risk to the life of the five year old girl, the Judge ruled that the raccoon had to be tested.
With the order in hand, Dr. Black and the Attorney now had to coordinate seizure of raccoon with the police and County Animal Control.
Here was the game plan: we would all meet a block away from the nursery. On the way down, we met three Wild Life and Fish and Game Officers in their patrol car.
Here’s the picture: one car with the Health Department Lawyer and Veterinarian, two animal control vehicles, one police car with two officers, one Wildlife vehicle with three Fish & Game Officers, for a total of five vehicles and ten Government officials, all for Rocky.
As we drive up to the property, we are met by an 80 year old man holding a Gideon Bible and wearing bleached out overalls and a t-shirt emblazed with the logo of “Plants r Us” Nursery.
The lawyer handed the old timer the search and seizure warrant. The old timer looked at the ten government officials and in a slow southern drawl, inquired, “Why didn’t you bring the Judge too?”
We all laughed knowing it looked like an army had attacked the nursery but realizing that a five year-old girl’s life was on the line.
Rocky tested negative and the girl did not have to seek further medical intervention.
11 A Beatles song from the “White” album, 1968. Apple Records, Lennon/McCartney
12 Rabies (Latin, rabies, “madness, rage, fury”) is a viral zoonotic disease that causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in mammals. In non-vaccinated humans, rabies is invariably fatal after neurological symptoms have developed, but prompt post-exposure vaccination may prevent the virus from progressing. Only six humans are known to have survived rabies after the onset of symptoms. There is only one known case of a person surviving rabies without treatment. Wikipedia, 2007.
13 Any mammal may become infected with the rabies virus and develop symptoms, including humans. Most animals can be infected by the virus and can transmit the disease to humans. Infected bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, dogs or cats provide the greatest risk to humans.2 4