A family’s efforts to nurse a raccoon back to health and train it to return to the wild caught the attention of the public for several days. It ended badly with state officials seizing the animal and putting it to death for disease testing.
There were fears it could have rabies and pose a danger to the public, but it ended up testing negative.
The fact the family had the raccoon might have gone unnoticed if Erin Christensen hadn’t taken it into the Maddock Bar on Sept. 6. The bartender ordered Christensen to leave with the raccoon which was never loose and didn’t bite anyone.
It’s illegal under North Dakota Board of Animal Health laws to keep a wild raccoon. People are instructed to leave wild animals alone that they find. Animals can carry a variety of diseases, plus they can bite or claw people.
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Christensen said her family discovered the raccoon on the side of a road about three months ago. They didn’t disturb the animal, thinking the mother would return for it. The next day when the raccoon was still there they decided to help it. They had been feeding it and training it how to forage for food.
When authorities learned about the animal being taken into the bar, it prompted a search for Christensen and the raccoon. The state Health and Human Services department issued a warning about potential rabies exposure.
Christensen was arrested on Sept. 14 on suspicion of giving false information to law enforcement and tampering with evidence and for a Game and Fish violation of unlawfully possessing a furbearer. The raccoon was killed so it could be tested for rabies.
Christensen told the Tribune that her family is “traumatized” by her arrest and the euthanizing of the raccoon. She said their efforts at a good deed were thwarted.
However, Christensen bears responsibility for the situation. The family shouldn’t have picked up the animal, and she shouldn’t have taken it into the bar and then apparently tried to elude authorities.
The law might seem harsh, and it might seem cruel to leave an injured or abandoned animal to its fate, but it’s practical. Wild animals aren’t easily turned into pets. Anyone who has adopted a feral cat knows they have traits that don’t change.
One of the enduring stories about adopting a wild animal is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ “The Yearling” published in 1938. It’s about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn and raises it. As it grows it poses problems for the struggling farm family because it still has wild instincts.
Some may feel that state health and wildlife officials overreacted to the raccoon situation. They didn’t. The concerns about rabies, which can be deadly, were legitimate. Officials have a responsibility to the public they could not ignore.
The efforts by Christensen and her family were based on good intentions, but they were misguided. It created problems for a number of agencies. The raccoon saga can serve as a reminder to the public of what to do and not do when encountering wild animals.
Like it or not, the good deed is leaving them alone.