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Family takes in raccoon; county euthanizes it

By Elena Watts
Sept. 3, 2013 at 4:03 a.m.
Updated Sept. 4, 2013 at 4:04 a.m.

The raccoon is a medium-sized mammal native to North America.

WILDLIFE REHABILITATION HELP

Call Anabel Torres-Mondolfi, the only registered wildlife rehabilitator in Victoria County, for animal rescue guidance at 361-649-7917.

Good Samaritans who want to rescue endangered wild animals should know their options.

Namely, having wild animals as pets is against the law, and other avenues are available to care for them.

Sandra and Jack Barnett, of Victoria, have learned this first-hand.

They were driving through the Target parking lot in early summer when a small animal crawled across the pavement.

They picked up the tiny raccoon with oven mitts and took him home in a cat carrier.

They held the tiny creature for about a week before they decided to turn him loose in Ethel Lee Tracy Park.

As he began to crawl out of the carrier, the Barnetts changed their minds. They feared the baby raccoon would not survive and called their son, Craig Barnett.

At first, he did not want the raccoon, Sandra Barnett said.

"But then, he fell in love with the animal the moment he saw him," she said.

Craig named him Bandit, wrapped him in a blanket, nursed him with bottled milk and carried him everywhere he went, she said. Bandit climbed trees and returned when Craig Barnett called him.

Three months passed before someone reported to law enforcement that the wild raccoon lived in the Northcrest subdivision.

It is illegal to possess live wild animals, such as raccoon, deer and opossum, said Travis Haug, a game warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Disease and aggression are other reasons not to attempt domestication of wild animals, said Dr. Travis Schaar, veterinarian with Main Street Hospital.

Bandit nibbled like a puppy or kitten but did not bite, Barnett said.

"We received a call that the raccoon had bitten someone," said Heather Kern, assistant supervisor of Victoria County Animal Control.

Haug and a sheriff's deputy transported the raccoon to animal control, where it was euthanized and tested for rabies. The test came back negative.

Even though the chances of the animal having rabies are low, a test should be performed when a wild animal has been in close contact with people, said Schaar. The animal's brain tissue must be tested, which requires euthanasia.

"People with rabies will die if they don't get the vaccine within the incubation period," Schaar said. "It's not worth it."

Schaar recommends people who come across animals in distress call either the sheriff's office or the parks and wildlife department.

Baby animals might appear abandoned when they are not, Haug said. He receives numerous calls every year about orphaned fawns. He recommends the callers leave them alone.

"The mother is off eating, providing for the baby and will usually find him," Haug said.

Victoria County's only registered wildlife rehabilitator, Anabel Torres-Mondolfi, does not perform the work anymore but offers guidance.

"All wildlife can be rehabilitated," she said.

The ideal is for the rescuer to take the endangered animal to the proper facility as soon as possible.

"Game wardens stay busy and are not always aware of the options," she said.

There are large rehabilitation centers in Angleton and Boerne, as well as other nearby communities.

Haug could not discuss details of the case involving Craig Barnett and Bandit because of the pending criminal case.

Harboring a wild animal is punishable by a fine of $25 to $500, Haug said.

"One hundred percent of the people who help animals have their hearts in the right places," Torres-Mondolfi said. "They want to help."

However, the reality is that wild animals need to fear humans and their pets, such as dogs, to have a greater chance of survival in the wild.

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