Hope woman details attack by rabid raccoon

By Kim Lincoln | Jun 12, 2017

Hope — Rachel Borch was running along a woodland trail June 3 near her home, located off Hatchet Mountain Road, when the unimaginable happened — she was attacked by a raccoon, which she was forced to kill to protect herself.

The state's Centers for Disease Control confirmed June 5 the raccoon tested positive for rabies.

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus. It affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause death if left untreated, according to the Maine CDC. Rabies in people is very rare in the United States, but rabies in animals — especially wildlife —  is common in most parts of the country, including Maine.

That Saturday afternoon, Borch, 21, said she was getting ready to go out for an afternoon run and her brother, Chris, who was out mowing the lawn, told her to be careful because he saw a raccoon “skulking” around the yard. He did not get a very good look at it, because it took off, she said, but he thought it was odd that the noctural animal was out and about in the daytime.

Borch said oftentimes she runs up Hatchet Mountain Road, but since it was a nice day she decided to go for a run in the woods on a fire road next to her house — a trail she has run on since her high school years. She runs a mile down toward Alford Lake, stretches and then runs the mile back.

“I went to my normal stretching spot and started running back and I was having a nice, scenic run with my earbuds in and enjoying nature, when out of nowhere, I see through the underbrush a very ferocious-looking raccoon charging at me with its teeth bared,” Borch said.

She immediately knew something was wrong with the raccoon, just by the way it was acting.

“It was one of those moments like out of the 'Twilight Zone' — this isn't real, this doesn't happen in real life, but then it was right there and it was right at my feet,” she said.

The raccoon, which she described as really agitated, was showing its teeth and charging toward her. She said she started dancing around it, frantically trying to figure out what to do.

“There was nothing I could do, it was going to bite me,” Borch said. She had dropped her phone and had nothing to protect herself with.

She thought to herself if it was going to bite her, it might as well be her hands. So Borch put her hands out in front of her, and that's when the raccoon latched onto her thumb.

“I was screaming and crying and trying to hold it down,” she said. “There was a few inches of really muddy water on the ground — it was a swampy area of the trail — so I just took all my strength and pushed it into the water.”

She pushed the raccoon's head underwater and held it there for what she said seemed like a very long time, all the while it was clawing her arms and continuing to bite down on her thumb.

“It happened so fast, but also in slow motion,” Borch said.

The raccoon, still under the water, continued to move for a while and she was afraid to let go, for fear that it would continue attacking her. Eventually, it released its paws and its jaws stopped clenching her thumb.

Then Borch took off for home. Since her shoes were soaked, she took them off somewhere on the trail so she could run faster and by the time she reached the road, she was hyperventilating.

Bleeding and crying as she ran back home, she screamed for her mother to call 9-1-1. Borch and her mother, Beth, took off in the car for Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and a deputy for the Knox County Sheriff's Office responded to the home. Borch's father, Brad, and her brother headed into the woods to retrieve the animal, for fear another animal might drag it off and also become infected.

Hope Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood warned that if one animal tests positive for rabies, it's "almost 100 percent" certain there are more animals in the area infected with the disease. In fact, Blood said, last summer two raccoons in Lincolnville and one in Hope also all tested positive, so she's seeing an uptick of cases in the area.

"Where there is one, there is apt to be more," Blood said of the rabid animals.

If a person encounters an animal, it doesn't necessarily have to be aggressive to be infected; it can also act "delirious or drunk-like," Blood said. People also commonly think if an animal has mange, it has rabies, which she said is not always the case. Blood also said it is not uncommon to see young raccoons out and about in the daytime, particularly this time of year, because they are learning to hunt.

However, she said, people should always err on the side of caution, and they and their pets should avoid the animals. People should also stay away from a dead animal, because rabies can live outside the body for 24 hours, she said.

The animal control officer also reminded residents that it is Maine state law that all cats and dogs must be vaccinated against the disease — even felines that are considered indoor pets, because bats and other small animals are known to carry the disease.

The day of the incident, Borch received the first four shots in the rabies series, an immunoglobulin injection and a tetanus shot. On June 6 and June 10, she received additional shots in the rabies vaccination series and the last is expected on June 17. She also has been taking antibiotics to aid in healing the puncture wounds on her hands.

“You just can't predict something like that,” Borch said, noting she has no good advice to give people. “I'm still processing it, but that does not happen and that is not a normal thing.”

If a person or their animal comes in contact with a potentially rabid animal, they should contact Blood at 322-3237 or the Maine Warden Service.

Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.

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