Clinic Stories

The Bite is Worse Than the Bark

One of the more uncomfortable aspects of veterinary medicine is dealing with potentially rabid animals. Animal Control occasionally brings in sick skunks or raccoons that have been trapped. My job is to remove them from the trap, euthanize them and remove their heads to be sent to the state laboratory for rabies testing. Trying to do this without getting bitten can present a challenge. Fortunately this is almost always successful, and most of the time the animals are negative for rabies.

In 1990, while living in Georgia, someone who cared for our horses reported a possibly rabid skunk in the barn. In broad daylight, the skunk walked into the barn and between the front legs of a horse that was tied in the alleyway. As a true son of the South, he retrieved his pistol from the glove compartment of his pick up truck and shot the skunk before coming to let me know.

The skunk was immobilized but not quite dead. Assuming it was rabid, I stepped on its body and without touching it, cut its throat and removed its head, placing the head and body in separate bags. The next morning I dropped them off at the local diagnostic laboratory and a few days later was unceremoniously informed by mail that the skunk was rabid.

I called the county health department, who had no interest in the information as no one was bitten by the skunk. Many more animals are rabid than are recognized with most dying in their burrows or dens. In this case there had been no reported cases of rabies in the county for over 10 years.

My one mistake was stepping on the skunk. The shoe I was wearing smelled so bad that I had to throw it away.

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