2012-08-02 / Editorial

Animals and humans


Well, I learned something this week. Now that Jamestown does not have an animal-control officer, you are basically on your own if you get an animal indoors. I went to get my lawnmower from the temporary plastic-covered shed I erected over my boat for the winter, and inside was a raccoon that looked at me bleary eyed from its perch on top of a pile of shrink wrap.

As I approached, it raised its head and snarled, but made no attempt to run away. I dragged the lawnmower clear and backed away to another snarl from the animal. Thinking it might be rabid, I called the Jamestown police. A pleasant voice answered and told me that I should call the Department of Environmental Management because the police do not handle animal calls anymore. Silly me, I thought that was one of the functions of the Police Department. But that was when we had an animal-control officer. I didn’t know that function had ended.

I dutifully called DEM. “Yeah, we’ve got a person on Jamestown, but if the animal is in a shed of any kind, we can’t go into the shed.” I pointed out that it was a temporary structure that was wide open – that’s how the animal got inside – but the officer was adamant. “Sorry, we can’t do anything. You have to call a private animal-control business.”

“Even if the animal is rabid?”

“How do you know it’s rabid?” he countered.

“I don’t, but normally a raccoon will run off if it encounters humans. The last animal I saw in this state turned out to be rabid.”

The animal in question was a rabid skunk, which was shot by a Jamestown officer and disposed of by Jamestown’s finest. That, of course, was when the island had an animal-control officer. Now things have quietly changed without any notice to residents.

I guess the moral of this story is, if a rabid animal gets into your home, don’t worry about calling the police or DEM, leave your home and call a private animalcontrol business. If they are closed for the day, tough luck. If you try to dispose of it yourself, and the animal is rabid and you get bitten, get it treated right away – but don’t bother the police or DEM. Of course, if you can get it out of your house and off your property – preferably to a DEM-controlled state park – just leave it for them to deal with.

I guess in the old days, dealing with rabid animals was just something you did. You went indoors, got your shotgun and blew it away. Then you dug a pit, picked up the pieces on the end of your shovel, and buried the remains. Today, you can’t discharge a weapon close to your home, heaven forbid you fire at the animal indoors. (The shotgun holes in the walls might take a bit of explaining to your spouse). So your options are to call the police, call DEM or call a private company to deal with it, as long as they are not closed for the weekend. If they are, your options come down to only one: Deal with it yourself and risk being exposed to rabies.

You might want to pin this information on your refrigerator – or maybe near the front door so you can grab it on the way out! There are only three animal removal businesses listed in the Newport phone book. They are Bat Guys (846-3338), Budget Termite and Pest Control (848-2333), and Critter Control of Greater Rhode Island (800-274-8832 or 637-7991).

The author is the garden columnist for the Jamestown Press.

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