Rachel Borch set out on a trail run in Hope, Maine, on a recent June afternoon—it was a nice day and she wanted to enjoy the weather and the scenery. One thing she didn't expect to do: Kill a raccoon with her bare hands. But, as the Bangor Daily News reports, that's exactly what she did.
The 21-year-old saw the raccoon on the narrow, wooded trail ahead of her, baring its tiny teeth and blocking the path. Within seconds, it was running toward her. "I knew instantly it had to be rabid," Borch told BDN. She ripped out her headphones and dropped her phone.
She couldn't run past the raccoon, which was now lunging at her feet. Adrenaline kicked in and Borch started to devise a plan: She figured her greatest chance at defending herself was to hold the animal down—but that also gave the raccoon an opportunity to latch on. Soon it sank its teeth into Borch's thumb as it frantically clawed at her arms and legs, and she screamed and cried.
Borch tried—and failed—to unhinge its jaw to release her thumb, but then she noticed she'd dropped her phone into a puddle on the path. She realized she probably couldn't strangle the crazed raccoon to death, but thought holding it under water might get the job done.
"With my thumb in its mouth, I just pushed its head down into the muck," Borch said. The raccoon was still attacking Borch with all its might until it finally stopped struggling. Borch yanked her thumb out of its mouth and bolted.
She ran the three-quarters of a mile home, hyperventilating, hysterical, and shoeless (they were soaked after the fight, so she kicked them off). She only looked back once to make sure the raccoon didn't pull a Pet Sematary and start chasing her again.
Her mother drove her to Pen Bay Medical Center while her dad went to retrieve the dead raccoon and handed it over to the Maine Warden Service, packed in a Taste of the Wild dog food bag. He did the right thing: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any wildlife that bites a human—raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats—should be euthanized and tested immediately, buuuut it's safer to just call your local animal control and have them pick it up.
The raccoon did test positive for rabies, according to Hope Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood. She warned that when one animal's infected, others often are, too—in fact, as of June 7, the Maine CDC has confirmed 20 cases of rabies in wildlife. The infection shows up in animals within two weeks and includes symptoms like excessive salivation, aggression, and self-mutilation. (Seeing a raccoon out in the daytime doesn't automatically mean it's rabid.) In humans, it can take a few months for symptoms to show up—they'll experience flu-like symptoms along with difficulty swallowing, insomnia, and hallucinations. In any warm-blooded animal, rabies is almost always fatal if untreated.
Borch is currently being treated for rabies exposure—she's had six shots so far since the June 2 attack, including the rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin and tetanus injections, and she'll receive her last injection this weekend. And she isn't the only Mainer who's been attacked by a rabid animal this season: The day before Borch's attack, a possibly rabid fox bit a man on both hands in Topsham, Maine.
But if you're looking for advice from Borch about how to deal with a rabid animal on your own, don't bother. "If there hadn't been water on the ground, I don't know what I would have done," she told BDN. "It really was just dumb luck. I've never killed an animal with my bare hands. I'm a vegetarian. It was self-defense."
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