Military and Police

Not Exactly the Zombie Apocalypse – ‘Distempered’ Raccoons in Ohio

“He would stand up on his hind legs…he would show his teeth…then he would fall over backward and go into almost a comatose condition.” No, this is not a report about an upcoming Netflix “Zombie” series. This was what one awestruck Ohioan, Robert Coggeshall, recounted to WKBN Channel 27, the CBS affiliate in Youngstown, OH.

It seems police have been experiencing a crime wave of sorts. Not exactly with zombies, though. While these roving specters may not have skin peeling off, they do have masks. The culprits eliciting 14 9-1-1 calls in March are raccoons. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources believes these animals have been infected with distemper.

Distemper symptoms may appear similar to rabies, but humans cannot be infected with it. It is still troubling though, because the disease is quite contagious for dogs. Dogs don’t even have to be bitten to be infected as they can contract the disease through inhalation. As a result, local vets are encouraging pet owners to keep their dogs up to date on their vaccines.

The fact that local reporting has designated these diminutive ne’er-do-wells zombies is not surprising. Other reported behaviors from infected raccoons mimic those of zombies—such as wandering aimlessly.

“What you are most impressed with is these animals walking extremely slowly, and not seeming to care about their surroundings,” Dr. Donna Alexander said, via CBS Chicago. “They are not showing any fear of humans. They are walking around during the daytime.”

It was not unusual for me to encounter raccoons on my beat in Seattle. While other species suffer from human encroachment, raccoons seem to be one of those critters that actually benefits from being near their human neighbors. However, the sentiment is not always returned.

When we first moved into our house, we learned just how brazen raccoons could be. At the time, we had a family of about five living somewhere in the wooded area behind our house. One night, my wife was in the living room and suddenly felt as if someone was staring at her. She glanced out the front window into the night and saw one of the smaller raccoons, paws on the window, staring at her with fascinated eyes.

She got up and opened the door to the front porch to shoo the wee beast away. When she did, she encountered another larger raccoon on the porch. He paused from eating our cats’ food and glanced up at her without the least little bit of fear. She waved her hands telling him to “go away!”

While this drama was unfolding, our cats, Jezebel and Latte, were a few feet away, laying across the top cushion of a porch couch. Apparently, they had come to some unholy alliance with the raccoons, which went something like this: either we eat your food, or we eat you. Apparently, our cats acquiesced the raccoon’s conditions.

My wife finally coaxed the raccoon off the porch, but not without some consternation and some less than charming attitude from Mr. Raccoon. Rather than run off, he sauntered as if it was all his decision and he’d stay if he damned well wanted to.

As he climbed the steps that lead up our backyard hill to the woods, he hissed and emitted a low growl. He also kept glancing back as if to tell my wife, “Don’t you worry. I’ll be back.”

Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including Is There a Problem, Officer? and the upcoming De-Policing: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. He served as a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and as a precinct mountain bike coordinator. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys riding his Harley and hiking and cycling with his wife who is also an English major as well as a retired firefighter.

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