Brunswick animal control officer Heidi Nelson removes a sick raccoon from a home on Hawthorne Street on Thursday. She said, “I like to view my job as 95 percent education and 5 percent enforcement.” Darcie Moore/Times Record

BRUNSWICK — People in the Brunswick area are on edge after a recent spate of incidents in which rabid wild animals have attacked residents or their pets.

Brunswick police have received several calls a day from people reporting animals in their yard they fear are infected.

Patrolling Raymond Road on Thursday, Animal Control Officer Heidi Nelson, a 14-year veteran, spotted a young fox by the road. Nelson said she has no definitive way, at first glance, to tell if an animal is rabid. Warning indicators include aggression, walking in circles and signs that it has tangled with another animal – smelling like a skunk or having a face full of porcupine quills.

This fox, however, looked healthy and acted normally. Nelson said it’s not unusual, as young foxes are starting to hunt on their own at this time of year. If it had been in the end stages of rabies when it can transmit the virus, she said, it likely would have been chasing cars.

Still, appearances can be deceiving. Although it appeared healthy and normal, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t infected with rabies.

“I like to view my job as 95 percent education and 5 percent enforcement,” Nelson said. “I really feel it’s my job to educate the public on state laws, town ordinances and also about animal behavior – whether it be wild animals or domesticated animals.”

Much of her time is spent responding to dogs at large or those left in hot vehicles. Since news of the rabies cases, though, most of her calls are of wildlife on people’s property. One caller had a squirrel in her bedroom and wanted help getting it out.

“We want you to call if you feel there is wildlife acting aggressively and your safety could be involved,” Nelson said.

Police warned the public of the outbreak last week after a fourth confirmed case of rabies in three weeks, and the public appears quick to report instances of wildlife behaving badly.

Recent examples include residents complaining of aggressive turkeys, though only mammals carry rabies. Nelson also responded to a report of a person in the Meadowbrook area who was apparently chased by a coyote, though she found no sign of the animal.

On patrol Thursday, Nelson responded to a resident on Hawthorne Street who reported a sickly looking raccoon. Nelson found a young, lethargic raccoon in the resident’s window well. Lifting the animal carefully with a catch pole – a combination pole and snare used to restrain wildlife – Nelson saw something wrong with the raccoon’s eyes, possibly as a result of an injury or neurological issue. After removing it from the residence and conferring with a Maine game warden, police euthanized the animal.

Brunswick has lots of woods. That means interactions between wildlife and humans, as well as with domestic animals.

It’s a law that people have their dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies, and the Coastal Humane Society offers a rabies clinic monthly in the midcoast for $10 per animal.

“They’re low cost, designed to help members of the community that are in need and may not be able to afford a vet visit, so we try to provide services to all of our community members,” said Kate Griffith, director of community relations for the nonprofit.

Coastal Humane’s next clinic is planned Saturday, hosted by the Veterinary Clinic on Maine Street.

Owners should make sure their animal is due for vaccinations and bring their pet’s vaccination records if possible. Overvaccinating can cause adverse side effects and has been linked to cancer and immune problems.

The Veterinary Clinic has walk-in hours – 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday – during which it provides $23 vaccinations.

The Veterinary Clinic has had 86 pets receive a rabies vaccination since June 1 – 59 dogs and 27 cats, a higher volume than usual, said veterinarian Dr. Erica Parthum.

“We definitely see animals that have attacked or had run-ins with wild animals,” she said, such as porcupines and skunks. “We do have animals who come in with wounds of unknown origin. Therefore we don’t know if that animal is potentially exposed to rabies, so we booster them.”

A pet that has an encounter with an animal that may be rabid will be quarantined for between 10 and 45 days, depending on the pet’s history of vaccination. If a pet has never been vaccinated, euthanasia is recommended, or it may stay at a quarantine facility for four months.

“This is something that people can get as well and it’s deadly to animals and people,” Parthum said. “I just see it as a public service to make sure all animals are vaccinated so they are protected, the owners are safe, and no one hopefully has to go through the painful after-exposure injections.”

As of Friday, Brunswick police had not reported any attacks by rabid animals since June 29, when a man on Bouchard Drive was attacked by a rabid fox. It was the fourth such incident in three weeks.

In Maine, there were 33 cases of rabies reported in the first six months of 2018. However, there hasn’t been a case of human rabies in Maine since 1937.

Nelson said people should enjoy wildlife, but it should be from their kitchen window or from their vehicle. Maine’s critters carry other diseases, too, she says.

It’s not unusual to have four cases of rabies in a single area, she said; what is unusual is that the incidents occurred in such quick succession.

If there’s one message she has, Nelson said, it’s don’t panic.

“We live in Maine,” she said, “and need to learn to cohabitate with wildlife.”

Darcie Moore can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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