September 22, 2017
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  • A photo snapped by Broadneck resident Christine Zisa depicts what appears to be a fox with mange walking along Jones Station Road in Arnold.
    A photo snapped by Broadneck resident Christine Zisa depicts what appears to be a fox with mange walking along Jones Station Road in Arnold.
  • Baits containing oral rabies vaccine are dropped by helicopter across Anne Arundel County to help immunize wildlife and reduce the number of sick raccoons that might pose a threat to humans and pets.
    Baits containing oral rabies vaccine are dropped by helicopter across Anne Arundel County to help immunize wildlife and reduce the number of sick raccoons that might pose a threat to humans and pets.

Sick Wildlife Sightings Leave Citizens Concerned

Dylan Roche
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September 7, 2017

Public Departments Can Help, But Which One To Call Depends On The Situation

On her way to work one morning, Christine Zisa was driving along Jones Station Road through Arnold when she saw something that she knew right away was odd. Was it a stray dog? A sick animal? The legendary chupacabra?

“As I was coming around the corner, I saw him walking down the shoulder of the road,” Zisa recalled. “I just happened to stop and watch him, trying to figure out what it was. Another car came, and we were both looking at him.”

The animal, as Zisa explained, looked as if it might have been a fox or a dog with matted hair or a skin condition. Zisa went close, called at it, whistled at it, and tried to get its attention, but it wouldn’t scare away. It didn’t even seem to be aware of its surroundings. After about 10 minutes, the animal wandered off into the woods.

Before it left, Zisa took out her phone and snapped a photo, which she posted to the “I Live On The Broadneck Peninsula” Facebook page with hopes that someone might be able to identify the animal and what was wrong with it.

“When I posted it, a lot of people said they have seen it or another one like it,” Zisa said. “I don’t know whether they’re following the same one or not. I’ve seen pictures of others that look slightly different.”

Wagering guesses, many on the Facebook page commented that it likely could have been a fox with mange and encouraged Zisa to call Anne Arundel County Animal Control. But as she discovered, Animal Control doesn’t handle sick wildlife. According to Robin Catlett, administrator for Animal Control, the department is responsible for wildlife that has found its way into people’s indoor living space, such as a bat that has flown inside a house, a raccoon that has wandered in through a dog door or a snake that has slithered in through a crack somewhere. This does not include interior spaces not used as primary living space, such as an attic or a crawlspace.

The misconception persists, however, that Animal Control handles sick wildlife, and Zisa’s call regarding a mangy fox was not the first the department received. “Unfortunately, mange is a common issue that foxes in our area deal with,” Catlett said. People can identify foxes with mange by observing their diurnal (versus nocturnal) activity and a general lethargy or disinterest in hunting. “They have trouble retaining heat, so they’ll go outside when it’s sunny,” Catlett said. “They hang out at an easy food source, like if you have trash outside. The fox learns that’s a common, easy place to get food, and they’ll keep coming back.”

The only instance in which Animal Control should be contacted regarding a sick animal is if a human has had contact with the animal and there is risk the disease was transferred. Animal Control is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 410-222-8900.

Otherwise, concerns regarding sick wildlife should be directed to the Department of Natural Resources at 410-260-8540. “If people are seeing stuff, call that number, and it gets routed to a local wildlife response technician,” said Karina Stonsifer, a director of DNR’s wildlife and heritage services. “They will get in touch with the individual to get [more information]. We get a lot of calls about truly sick animals, but we get a lot of [false alarms].”

In the case of rabies, simply removing sick wildlife isn’t enough to solve the problem, especially when rabid animals pose a threat to humans and pets. The Anne Arundel County Department of Health has spent 18 years using vaccine-laced bait to stop rabies from spreading among local wildlife. This year, crews set out by helicopter and automobile on the morning of Thursday, August 31, to distribute approximately 85,000 pieces of bait countywide, primarily in raccoon territory. “At the time the program started [in 1998], there were 96 positive terrestrial animals; we’re down this year to date to four,” said Tom Burja, zoonotic disease specialist with the Department of Health. “So it’s effective in reducing the number of rabid animals in the community.”

Because Anne Arundel is the only county in Maryland that does this, Burja does not expect DOH to ever fully eliminate rabies; however, he pointed out that what was once one of the highest rabies populations has gone down to one of the lowest.

The program, known officially as the Raccoon Oral Rabies Vaccination (ORV) Project, starts annually as close as possible to the beginning of September, when the young of the year are old enough to search and find the bait. Any earlier and young animals won’t be independent, but by the time October and November arrive, raccoon are foraging less frequently for food.

The baits — small packets filled with vaccine — are intended for raccoons but are safe for pets and other animals that might find them. According to the Department of Health, the vaccine is a “low human health risk,” but children, pregnant women, anyone with a compromised immune system and anyone with chronic skin conditions are advised to avoid handling the bait.

For further information on any departments and programs, refer to www.aacounty.org/departments/animal-control, dnr.maryland.gov or www.aahealth.org. Each website has information on what the department does and does not handle, along with helpful tips on what community members can do to keep themselves, their families and their pets safe when it comes to wildlife.

When in doubt, it’s best to bear in mind the candid advice that Stonsifer offers to people regarding sick or injured animals: “Do not approach it. Do not try to pick it up or try to care for it. Let a trained staff member come out and handle it.”

Comments

Posted 12/31/1969 07:00 PM

Thanks for putting my photo on the front page! I feel so special!! LIKE my page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/localchupacabras/ Sighting of me can be reported to https://inwetolkengeek.wixsite.com/chupacabra

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