How to Survive a Rabid Squirrel Encounter
Squirrels aren't a rabies vector species. That doesn't mean they can't mess you up.
Sherri Johnson's condo butts up against a wooded creek a few blocks from Presbyterian Hospital. She likes to keep a few cats around, strays really, to keep the raccoons and possums and other creek denizens from making themselves too comfortable on her property. It works for the most part, but the cats weren't messing with the squirrel that found its way onto her porch last Wednesday night.
"I get home, it's about 9 o'clock ... and there's an animal that's making screaming and barking and crying sounds," Johnson told me on Monday.
Moving closer, she discovered that it was a squirrel on the doorstep of her upstairs unit, but it wasn't the adorable scampering type, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Rather, as she described it in an email to Unfair Park, it was "rabid, ferocious, insane and attacky, ... which sounds funny until you get one."
Johnson walked halfway up the stairs and the squirrel charged.
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"It had pink foam on itself and was acting crazy, crazy, crazy," she told me. "I know I sound like a wimp, but it was obviously rabid."
So Johnson hung back and called 311, which told her that the city doesn't do rabid squirrel calls. She got no answer when she called animal control, and a dispatcher told her Dallas police only respond to calls of loose dogs. The sheriff's department said much the same thing. The woman manning the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife's emergency line told her to find an after-hours emergency exterminator, but she couldn't find one that was open.
Finally, she called her landlord. He didn't really believe there was a rabid squirrel but he came anyway, to humor Johnson. When he showed up and decided the squirrel was rabid, he shot it with a pellet gun on the fourth or fifth try. The whole ordeal took a solid three hours, and it got Johnson wondering: If neither the city, county, nor state will respond to a rabid animal call, just what, short of frontier justice, is one supposed to do when one finds a rabid squirrel on their porch?
After calling the state and county health departments, I checked with city spokesman Frank Librio. Seems that 311 operators should have directed Johnson to 911 Wildlife, the company to which the city has outsourced its wild animal calls since February.
"That's how it's supposed to work," said owner Bonnie Bradshaw. Then, the company would have sent someone to cage and remove the animal.
Bradshaw just wasn't sure the squirrel Johnson encountered was rabid. Maybe it was a scared youngster or a mother protecting her young, or maybe had some other sort of disease. Squirrels simply aren't a rabies vector species, meaning they seldom get rabies and have never been known to transfer it to humans.
"Any warm-blooded mammal technically, in a laboratory setting, could get rabies," Bradshaw said. "But the reality is, it would be extremely unlikely."
That's good as far as it goes, but Johnson is pretty damn sure that the squirrel was rabid. The body's gone, so we'll never know for sure, but what else could make a rodent so ferocious, insane and attacky? (Too much Fox News, perhaps?) Also, as Johnson reminds us in her email: "(fyi: rabid squirrels are FAST)"
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