VERNAL — A 5-year-old Uintah County boy was hospitalized last month after he was scratched by a neighbor’s pet raccoon, state wildlife officials said Thursday.
The boy suffered significant scratches on Dec. 11 and had to undergo emergency surgery, according to officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
While the agency didn’t release the boy’s name and didn’t have an update on his condition, Tonya Kieffer-Selby, outreach manager for the division, said Thursday he has “a very long road to recovery ahead of him.”
“Our main concern was that this boy was properly taken care of,” she said. “Raccoons are known to be carriers of different parasites, viruses and bacteria; and so when we initially received the call, our main concern was making sure this boy was treated correctly for his injury.”
Kieffer-Selby said the raccoon was euthanized and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be tested for any diseases.
The DWR is using the incident to remind people not to keep wild animals as pets.
“It’s a concern for (wildlife) health, the public’s welfare, public safety, as well as bringing these animals into your home. You can be infecting other animals — pets and other wildlife,” Kieffer-Selby said. “We want (the public) to support wildlife. … Utah’s wildlife is a very big part of its heritage and culture, but we also need to make sure people are going to be doing it legally and safely for everyone.”
According to the agency, raccoons aren’t a protected species in Utah, and people don’t need a license to hunt them. But a permit from the Utah Department of Agriculture is required to own them as pets, Kieffer-Selby said. Other animals in a similar category include coyotes, red foxes and striped skunks.
Owning those species without the proper permit may lead to a class B misdemeanor, according to the division. The animal may also be seized.
In addition to possible erratic behavior, diseases are a major cause for concern. Raccoons, for example, may carry diseases such as rabies, canine distemper, raccoon parvoviral enteritis, infectious canine hepatitis, and pseudorabies. The species can also transmit leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis, which may be lethal for unborn babies, Kieffer-Selby said.
“Some of these things they can be infected with aren’t necessarily killed by washing your hands with soap and water,” she said. “Chemicals don’t always take care of the issue when you bring in a wild animal, and they could be infected with these different bacteria, viruses or parasites.”
Kieffer-Selby said she understands it’s tempting to bring home baby animals found in the wild. However, she said people should use common sense and deal with wildlife safely and legally.
“You may think bringing in an animal like this is safe; it isn’t,” she said.
Correction: In an earlier version, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said a federal permit is required to keep a racoon as a pet. The permit is actually issued by the Utah Department of Agriculture.