SYLACAUGA – A raccoon that attacked a dog outside a residence on West Fourth Street was found to have rabies, a Sylacauga resident told members of the Sylacauga City Council Wednesday morning.

Jim Green recounted graphic details of the May 22 attack, saying he and his significant other, Brenda Thorn, and her daughter were visiting at Thorn’s home. Her daughter, Natalie Thorn, let her 14-year-old dog Gabby, an Australian Shepherd, outside around 9 p.m.

“A raccoon came out of nowhere, latched onto Gabby’s leg, would not let go,” Green said. “Brenda came out and stabbed the raccoon with a butcher knife. She couldn’t get through its rib cage. Natalie took the knife, rolled the raccoon over and jammed the knife up into its heart and killed it.”

Green said they took the dog, which was up-to-date on its rabies vaccine, and the raccoon to local veterinarian Dr. James Ivey the next day. Ivey confirmed Tuesday that the raccoon’s head was sent to a state lab in Montgomery for testing, and results came back positive for rabies on June 2.

“We’ve had a couple positives in north Talladega County around the lake, but this is the first rabid animal in this area,” Ivey said. “We want to encourage everybody to get their animals vaccinated for rabies as soon as possible if they have not been vaccinated in the last 12 months. I also want to encourage people not to handle wild animals. If a wild animal is in your yard, and it’s not afraid of people, you need to contact animal control and get that animal tested. Do not handle it.”

Green said the dog and its owner are both receiving treatment for rabies exposure.

“In 2012, there were eight rabid animals identified in Talladega County. All eight were raccoons,” he said. “Raccoons are the primary vector in the south and for sure in Talladega County and Alabama.”

Green urged residents to ensure garbage cans and Dumpsters stay closed and inaccessible to raccoons.

“It’s my feeling this raccoon came from a Dumpster at a convenience store near Brenda’s home,” he said. “Rabid animals behave strangely. Attacking a two-and-a-half-foot-tall dog is pretty radical for a little animal. Most of the time, they would run away.”

Ivey said there is no reason to panic, but residents should take heed and get their pets vaccinated quickly and avoid wild animals. 

“If you do see (a wild animal) and decide to shoot it, don’t shoot it in the head, because we need that brain tissue to test it,” Ivey said.

Area veterinarians have agreed to do in-house rabies clinics, Ivey said, and will offer the vaccine at the state rabies clinic price through next Wednesday. Ivey did not have the price on hand, but veterinarian Dr. Herron Baxley said the shots will either be $10 or $11.

“Fourth Street is just a couple streets away from our clinic, so people in this area certainly need to get their animals vaccinated,” Baxley said. “It is my understanding that the dog attacked was in a fenced-in backyard, so fences don’t protect dogs or people. The best protection for people is to get your pets vaccinated. Ten dollars is a small price to pay for somebody’s life, because there is no cure for rabies.”

For vaccinated animals, the post-exposure prophylaxis consists of a booster shot and 45 days quarantine at home, Baxley said, while unvaccinated animals are “a whole different situation,” requiring six months quarantine and further medical treatment.

“If you even think you or your pet has been exposed, you should see the doctor as soon as possible,” Baxley said.

Green said this is an issue that can largely be controlled “simply by people taking care of their garbage. And if you see a cute little furry animal, stay away from it.”