HOPE — A woman who was attacked by a rabid raccoon while running in the woods near her home drowned the animal in a puddle after it latched onto her thumb.

Rachel Borch, 21, said she was getting ready to go out for an afternoon run on June 3 when her brother Chris told her to be careful because he had seen a raccoon “skulking” around the yard. He told her he thought it odd that the raccoon, normally a nocturnal animal, was out in the daytime.

Borch said she was running on a fire road next to her house when she encountered the animal.

“Out of nowhere, I see through the underbrush a very ferocious-looking raccoon charging at me with its teeth bared,” Borch said.

She immediately knew something was wrong with the animal by the way it was acting.

“It was one of those moments like out of the ‘Twilight Zone’ – this isn’t real, this doesn’t happen in real life, but then it was right there and it was right at my feet,” she said.

Borch said she started dancing around the animal, frantically trying to figure out what to do.

“There was nothing I could do, it was going to bite me,” she said. She had dropped her phone and had nothing to protect herself with.

She figured that if it was going to bite her, it might as well be her hands. She put her hands out in front of her, and the raccoon latched onto her thumb.

“I was screaming and crying and trying to hold it down,” she said. “There was a few inches of really muddy water on the ground – it was a swampy area of the trail – so I just took all my strength and pushed it into the water.”

She said she pushed the raccoon’s head underwater and held it there for what seemed like a very long time as it clawed her arms and continued to bite down on her thumb.

“It happened so fast, but also in slow motion,” Borch said.

The state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed June 5 that the raccoon tested positive for rabies.

Rabies is caused by a virus, affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause death if left untreated, according to the Maine CDC. Rabies in people is very rare in the United States, but rabies in animals – especially wildlife – is common in most parts of the country, including Maine.

The raccoon continued to move for a while while Borch kept its head underwater. She said she was afraid to let go for fear it would continue attacking her. Eventually, it released its paws and its jaws stopped clenching her thumb.

Bleeding and crying, Borch ran home and screamed for her mother to call 911. Borch’s father, Brad, and her brother retrieved the animal so another animal wouldn’t drag it off and become infected.

Hope animal control officer Heidi Blood said that if one animal tests positive for rabies, it’s “almost 100 percent” certain there are other animals in the area also infected. Blood said that last summer, two raccoons in Lincolnville and one in Hope tested positive for rabies.

Blood said an animal doesn’t have to be aggressive to be infected; it can also act “delirious or drunklike.”

She said people and their pets should avoid such animals, even dead ones, because the rabies virus can live outside the body for 24 hours.

Under Maine law, cats and dogs, even if they stay indoors, must be vaccinated against the disease.

Borch is expected to receive the last of four rabies shots on Saturday, and has been taking antibiotics for the puncture wounds on her hands.

“You just can’t predict something like that,” Borch said. “I’m still processing it, but that does not happen and that is not a normal thing.”