July 16, 2014

Rabid Raccoons Prompt Questions About Princeton’s Animal Control

Princeton Health Department is cautioning residents on the danger of rabies. Two raccoons found on Pretty Brook Road have tested positive and there is concern that other wild or stray animals may have come into contact with the raccoons.

Residents are urged not to leave food outside where it can attract wild animals and to make sure that their pets’ rabies shots are up-to-date.

Homeowners whose pets roam outside unattended should make sure their animals receive a rabies booster shot if they haven’t been immunized within the last year.

“Rabies is transmitted from infected mammals to humans or animals usually through a bite, but scratches and saliva contact with broken skin or mucous membranes are also possible routes,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeffrey Grosser in a press release issued Monday. “Any person who has had direct contact with a raccoon may have been exposed to rabies and should contact his/her doctor as soon as possible.”

A separate release from the Princeton Police Department directs anyone who has handled a raccoon in the area of Pretty Brook Road to contact the Princeton Police Department as soon as possible.

“Residents are reminded not to handle wildlife under any circumstances,” the release states. “Should anyone see any wildlife that is injured or appears to be out of place, please contact the Princeton Police Department at (609) 921-2100.”

The official statements come after a Princeton woman found a baby raccoon lying on Pretty Brook Road on June 4. The area resident transported the animal to the Mercer County Wildlife Center in Hopewell, where it later died.

According to Princeton Police, an examination undertaken by the state laboratory showed that the animal tested positive for rabies. The woman and her two children who had been in contact with the animal were advised to seek medical treatment.

Who to Call?

Residents should call the Princeton Police non-emergency number (609) 921-2100 to report dog bites, animal cruelty or neglect, sick or injured wildlife, and human exposure to or encounters with potentially rabid wildlife.

Town Administrator Bob Bruschi explained that supervision for animal control has moved from the Princeton Health Department to the Princeton Police Department so that the many “off hours” calls from residents can be handled by an agency that works 24/7, making it “easier to supervise the calls and to be sure they were all dealt with on a more organized and coordinated method.”

The rabid raccoon incident has sparked questions regarding the role of Princeton’s Animal Control Officer (ACO) when it comes to local wildlife. Some residents, it seems, had assumed that the Animal Control Officer would respond to any calls concerning unwanted wildlife in their vicinity. A fact sheet posted on the municipal website makes it clear that Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson will not respond indiscriminately to all nuisance calls. To view the fact sheet, visit the municipal website at princetonnj.gov and click on Animal Control under the Departments heading.

In addition to describing the role of the ACO, the fact sheet provides some guidelines on what to do if a wild animal is acting in a way that might be dangerous to humans.

“We issued the fact sheet to clearly state what our policy is and has been,” said Police Chief Nicholas K. Sutter. “This does not represent a policy change. It is a clarification of policy that was never previously stated for the public,” commented Mr. Sutter in a response to an email query from Town Topics.

“The duties of our Animal Control Officer are based on state guidelines and national best practices. We constantly work with our Health Department in evaluating our practices and responses. It would be at best inefficient or even impractical for our ACO to respond to every incident of animal or pest nuisance within Princeton. This is not to say that the ACO does not have discretion as to the way he handles individual incidents. There has been no service reduction or policy change. These practices have been in place for quite a long time. The ACO will continue to respond to animal complaints along with the police department and evaluate each on a case by case basis when determining the appropriate response.”

“We rely on the ACO or in his absence responding police officers to evaluate each case,” said Mr. Sutter. “When an animal is injured or posing a threat to humans or other animals we obviously take appropriate action.” Such cases would differ from the nuisance of a deer destroying plants, for example.

“Many people think that squirrels in the yard and in trees is a nuisance, and in many respects I would agree, but we certainly are not in a position to try to capture and relocate squirrels from every property. However, if we see a reason to do so the Animal Control Officer has that ability to make that decision on a case by case basis,” said Mr. Bruschi.

When to Call?

The Animal Control Officer will respond to wildlife encounters/emergencies that pose a threat to humans or pets and that could result in exposure to rabies. Signs and symptoms of rabies in wildlife can include cerebral dysfunction, weakness, paralysis, seizures, excessive salivation, abnormal behavior, aggression, and/or self-mutilation.

The Police Department should not be called, however, when wildlife poses no threat to humans or pets. Examples of such instances are characterized on the fact sheet as “wild animals living under decks, storage sheds, porches, in attics, basements, detached garages, and sheds,” or when wildlife poses a nuisance to gardens, flower beds, or shrubs.

But just to be on the safe side, residents unsure of whether a wild or a domestic animal is a safety or public health hazard, are advised to contact the Princeton Animal Control Officer for additional information (609) 921-2100.

Residents are advised to minimize contact between pets and wildlife and to report animal bites and animals seen acting strangely, including altercations between wild and domestic animals, to (609) 921-2100.

For more information, visit: www.state.nj.us/health/cd/rabies.