UPDATE** Willie Was Released Today From Animal Control To Spend His Quarantine At Home **UPDATE
I am personally proclaiming the week of March 1st, 2009 as Des Moines Pets Vaccination Awareness Week.
To bring everyone up to speed, on the evening of February 25th, 2010, my dog Willie, a 5 year old West Highland Terrier was out in the back yard of my home. Like many homes in our neighborhood, our backyard is fenced in and our two dogs have the run of the back yard, which with the kind of weather we’ve had this winter is a blessing. Anyone that has tried to walk their dogs through the neighborhood will agree that with 15 inches of snow or more on the ground, there is, well, no place for a good dog to do his business if you know what I mean.
We have several trees in our back yard and one of the things we like to do is feed the squirrels and birds in the neighborhood, especially during the winter when there is limited food for them. I suppose it was just a matter of time before we attracted more than just squirrels. We’ve had opossum’s in our back yard before but on this night we had a family of raccoons wander in. Up until that night I had a corn feeder and peanut box feeder for the squirrels. On this occasion the raccoons arrived. We let Willie out like normal and it is not unusual for him to go running off of our deck to the patio and occasionally bark at some critter in the night.
This night was different. We could hear Willie’s fiercest bark. It was constant and more eerie, it was muffled. I reluctantly put on my coat and shoes, found a working flashlight and headed out into the deep snow beyond my patio. The patio is circled by a wooden deck that at the back edges is about 2 feet above the ground. So it is a perfect place for critters to hide under or live under during the winter time. We had a family of rabbits attempt to live there once but Willie wouldn’t stand for that!
As I approached the back side of the deck the muffled barking became louder and more urgent. I could also hear the hissing and growling of another animal, obviously not happy with the predicament that it was now in. Keep in mind it was 7:30pm and dark outside and all that I could see was Willie’s white tail whipping and his back two legs jumping with his every bark. The flashlight reflected a pair of eyes and a familiar fur pattern of a small raccoon at the far end of the under decking. Yelling for Willie to stop and come out was obviously not going to prove to be a solution. So I did the only thing I could do… I grabbed for the first body part of Willie that I could reach (his tail) and pulled him out from under the deck.
He was covered in dirt and oh so very proud of his “catch”. All he wanted to do was get back under there and continue his fight. I peered back under holding Willie with one hand and the flashlight in the other. The raccoon appeared to be very happy that I had removed the Tasmanian Devil from in front of him.
I trudged back through the deep backyard snow with Willie still under my control and we came back into the house, my wife waiting anxiously to see and hear what had happened.
Willie appeared to not have sustained any injuries as we looked him over. There did appear to be a small amount of blood on his chest, but after a warm bath, there was no evidence of him being scratched or bitten, so we can only suspect that Willie was the one that inflicted the injuries.
While Willie was getting cleaned up, I went back out with flashlight and poking pole in hand to see if the raccoon had escaped from under the deck. It was a relief to find that the area was now cleared, so I started scanning the trees to see if I could find the culprit of all the excitement. Lo and behold, about 15 feet up in a tree was not just one, but three raccoons! Two were clinging together and above them was a smaller one. He was the one that I believe to have been under the deck. I suspected that because he was still panting heavily and as the flashlight shined on him, he would inch higher up the tree.
At this point, I came inside the house and told my wife that I was going to call Animal Control to see what they do in this situation. In hindsight, I question whether I should have done this. In Des Moines, for animal control problems, you call the police dispatch line for non-emergency matters. The person on the phone was cordial and I suspect that it’s a job that would be interesting to follow some night… I told her what had occurred and this is when I began to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. She asked me if my dog was hurt and needed medical attention. I paused and said, “no, but he did have a little blood on him but after a bath, we couldn’t find any injuries, bites or scratches”. She then asked if the raccoon was still in the yard and if it had been injured. I told her that it had climbed a tree along with two others and appeared to be ok. She then asked for my name, address and phone number and said that an Animal Control officer would be out. Puzzled, I said thank you and hung up the phone.
Throughout the rest of the evening, I periodically checked to see if the raccoon family had moved from the tree and about 10:00pm, I looked outside and they were on the railing above the deck digging through the peanut feeder. I decided at that point I would remove the corn feeder & peanut feeder box from my tree. I knew that once they discovered a food source, they would continue to come back at least until the snow cover was gone and they could find their normal food.
It was now about 11:30pm and I was heading for bed when a truck pulled into our driveway. It was Animal Control and the Officer was a nice lady who appeared with a clipboard and pen ready to “take our statement”. We explained the story as detailed above and her question echoed that of the police dispatch person… “Was the raccoon injured?” I wanted to answer, HECK YES! WILLIE TORE HIM UP!… because I was a proud dad of a killer pup defending his turf! Instead we told the less enthusiastic version of the story and that Willie seemed to have come out of this literally without a scratch but there was a bit of blood on him that washed off during his bath. So we assumed that the raccoon had “suffered” some sort of scratch or bite injury by Willie.
Then came the question which gave us a sinking feeling in our stomach. “Do you have Willie’s rabies tag & papers?” To which our question back was “well, yes, but his tag expired last Saturday and he’s got an appointment with the Vet for this Saturday for his shots”. I know some of you are going to read this and say … sure he was… but it is the truth. He actually had an appointment for last Saturday, but our Vet ended up calling and saying he was going to be out of town and if we wanted to wait for him, we’d have to reschedule. So we did reschedule for this coming Saturday, Feb 27th.
The officer said “You’re not going to like this news”…. “because Willie’s rabies tag is expired and he has injured the raccoon, we have to quarantine him for 10 days”. There was no argument. She filled out her paperwork, gave me her card with a case number and told me that I could carry Willie out to her truck. She explained that because Willie’s rabies tag was expired, he posed a threat to other animals and the quarantine was required in case he showed signs of rabies.
She was professional and courteous. She was quick to get in and out before we had a chance to think about what was happening. Willie wasn’t so understanding. He is most likely barking his head off as I write this. I wouldn’t be surprised if his voice is gone with we can pick him up on March 8th. No toys allowed (this isn’t a week at the spa). We were allowed to let him keep his collar on, but we couldn’t send him with his own food.
What have we learned from this? Well, from a logical standpoint.. (and it’s been a struggle for me to look at this logically,) any dog that does not have current vaccinations is a potential threat to not only wildlife such as raccoons, squirrels & opossums, but also to other domesticated animals and humans. The fact that Willie cornered a wild animal and there was signs of blood on his coat, even though it wasn’t HIS blood, the assumption has to be made that he (Willie) may have rabies and must be quarantined for a mandatory period of time. It seems like the raccoon is benefitting from this policy, and frankly after seeing Willie go at him under the deck, he is one lucky raccoon but bottom line, Willie’s vaccination was past due and we have to pay the price. Willie too.
I think of what would have happened if Willie and I were on a walk and met another dog on the walk and if Willie and the other dog were to begin to fight and blood was drawn. The end result would be the same if Animal Control were called. A pet with expired vaccinations would be quarantined.
The illogical side of me is angry. I’m angry that I made the call to Animal Control. I’m angry that it appears that a wild raccoon’s life is more valuable that my domesticated dog that sleeps in my bed, that eats toast with me each morning, that climbs onto my lap after coming in from the cold to warm his feet. I’m angry that I am causing a traumatic event to happen to a loving dog that doesn’t begin to understand what is happening to him or why. I’m not angry with the City of Des Moines or the Animal Control Officer that came to my home in the middle of the night and took my dog away. I’m angry at myself. I take full responsibility and I will try to make it up to Willie when he returns back home.
I am personally proclaiming the week of March 1st, 2010 as Des Moines Pet Vaccination Awareness Week. On Monday, I will be posting information about the City of Des Moines licensing laws and will have information about pet vaccinations. In the meantime, please keep Willie on your mind and prayers. Hug your pets when you get home tonight. And lastly, check your pet’s vaccination tags. Actually, that last bit of advice should be the first thing you do.