62-year-old Janet King says she had just finished
© TORONTO STAR / David Cooper
62-year-old Janet King says she had just finished walking her dog when she was attacked by a racoon.
A raccoon that lunged at an Oakville woman as she was getting into her car in December has tested negative for rabies, says the Oakville and Milton Humane Society.

Janet King, 62, says she had just finished walking her dog Cookie in Lakeside Park when the attack occurred. It was about 1 p.m. on Dec. 13, and she was sitting sideways in her car's driver's seat, with her feet still on the street.

"I felt this sharp pain," she told the Oakville Beaver on Monday. "I looked down and this big, giant raccoon had a hold of my leg and was biting away."

"Three of its teeth just went right into my leg. I didn't know if it wanted (to get) in the car, wanted the dog or what."

King says she used her other foot to try to kick the wild animal away, but it continued trying to bite her leg. "I started screaming at the top of my lungs and put my whole arm on the horn. It let go . . . It had the funniest look on its face and then turned around and walked away.

"When it got far enough, I slammed the door shut and sat and cried."

She said the raccoon didn't show any physical signs of illness, other than its behaviour. A man who heard the ruckus later told her he'd recently seen a raccoon chasing a family through the park.
Someone at the park called the Oakville and Milton Humane Society, which captured the raccoon that day, said Caitlin Jones, Manager of Animal Protection Services for the organization.

She didn't attend that call, but says typically, it's not hard to find the animal in question. "If there's a raccoon behaving abnormally . . . they're often not leaving the scene."

She said the animal was inspected by a veterinary technician, who agreed it was demonstrating strange behaviour. The Humane Society says it alerted the Halton Region Health Department, which requested the raccoon be sent to a lab for rabies testing. The animal was "humanely euthanized," said Jones, who believes it's likely the raccoon was ill, just not from rabies.

"It's our speculation that this raccoon had something called distemper . . . It's quite common in Oakville."

Symptoms of distemper can be similar to those of rabies, and can include lethargy, walking in circles or with a strange gait, disorientation, and yellowish, crusty eyes. No animals with rabies have ever been found in Oakville. The only rabid animal discovered in Halton Region in 2018 was a bat found in Burlington in October, according to the region's website.

However, several people were treated for rabies last year, the recommended course of action when someone is "bitten, scratched or exposed to saliva from a skunk, bat, fox, coyote, raccoon or other carnivorous animal and the animal is unavailable for testing," said Nik Tymoszewicz, the region's supervisor of food safety, healthy environments and communicable disease.

"Anyone bitten/scratched by an animal should contact the health department or their local physician immediately as rabies is a fatal disease," he wrote in an email.

The World Health Organization also recommends cleaning the wound with soap and water as soon as possible.

King said the treatment for rabies included seven needles directly into the wound, then another three at a follow-up appointment. She said the side effects of the vaccine were intense, including dizziness and nausea, but not as bad as the nagging fear that she might contract the fatal illness. (The vaccine has proven highly effective in preventing rabies if administered quickly after contact.)

King was relieved to hear from the Beaver that the animal had tested negative.

"After a while, you get thinking, 'what if the serum doesn't work?' "