It has been a terrible winter with the unnatural, fluctuating temperatures swings. Leaf buds on the trees in January. 16C and crocus up in February. A bug flying in the car, robins and song birds back and animals usually cozy in their dens for the coldest part of the winter are out foraging for food. Bats came out of hibernation again this winter.
This is all too early. I have gotten many calls with daytime sightings of skunks, racoons and opossums. They are not estivating this year and they are hungry so you will see them day and night trying to find food. Being out in daylight does not mean they have rabies. However, rabies is now a concern we must deal with.
After a decade of Ontario being virtually rabies free, the virus hit with a vengeance in December 2015 in Hamilton. DNA testing showed the virus came via a raccoon from eastern United States, most likely on a transport or train. It must have been an exciting day or two for the little guy as he travelled the U.S. into Canada, all the way to Hamilton.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) had been very proud of their rabies bait drop program, basically eradicating it from Ontario for many years, until Rocky crossed the border.
Unfortunately there must have a great party here to mark the occasion at which he managed to infect some of his cousins. Being the hit of the social club those raccoons shared with other 229 raccoons, 85 skunks, one fox, two cats and, just to cause a stir, a llama! These were 284 cases raccoon rabies.
Hamilton, where it started, has had 224 cases, Haldimand-Norfolk 19 cases, Brant 15 cases, Niagara 12 cases, and Halton nine cases.
Unfortunately there is another other types of rabies, called Bat and Arctic Fox Rabies which has hit in Perth and Huron Counties, with 30-plus bats and six animals with fox strain including a cow.
Authorized wildlife rehabilitators have been getting rabies updates from the Ministry and have watched it spread by purple dots on their surveillance maps from Hamilton, west to Brantford, south to (very close) to Pt. Ryerse, northwest about half way to Cambridge, and east to the Niagara peninsula but not yet to the river. There are large arcs drawn around the confirmed cases creating a Surveillance Zone, where they are watching and suspect the disease could go. The zone includes Tillsonburg, Woodstock, Aylmer and south pretty much to Long Point. Go to www.omarfra.gov.on.ca (OMNRF Wildlife Rabies Control Zone), you will see a multitude of green dots which represent where the millions of baits drops laced with the rabies vaccine have been dropped from plane, helicopter or tossed within cities, towns and ravines. The red triangles are the fox strain confirmation locations. Go online, check it out and be aware.
The OMNRF has accelerated and expanded their bait-dropping program, in which they distribute oral baits inoculated with rabies vaccine into areas surrounding the locations where positive cases have been found. The bait contains fats, wax, icing sugar, vegetable oil, marshmallow flavouring and a dark green dye. It coats a blister pack containing an oral vaccine. Exposure to the bait is not harmful to people or pets, but it is wise to consult your doctor or veterinarian if you or your animal come into contact with the vaccine.
Unfortunately distemper and rabies have very similar symptoms. What most people will see is an animal that is staggering around like it is drunk and looking sick. In the past we only worried about distemper but with rabies on the move, and Tillsonburg in the zone, we must be aware it could be rabies. Make sure your animals have their rabies shots. Rabies is passed through saliva and is spread by a bite or scratch or into a cut, wound, eye, nose or mouth. Look up all the signs at www.omafra.gov.on.ca (Rabies in Ontario).
If you are in danger because of the animal, the police can be called to shoot it, but they have no facilities to remove the body. In fact, it needs to be sent for testing.
Tillsonburg does not have an animal control company that deals with wildlife or a local humane society office, so we are limited in who we can call. The MNRF hotline for rabies is 1-888-574-6656.
Keep humans and animals from any dead animals you might find and get them tested.