DWR urges Utahns not to keep wildlife as pets after boy’s raccoon scratch requires surgery

Editor’s Note: The photo gallery contains images of the injuries the boy suffered and may be disturbing to some users.

VERNAL — A 5-year-old boy underwent surgery last month after he was “significantly” scratched by his family’s pet raccoon, state wildlife officials said.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources didn’t provide many details about the incident other than the boy, a resident of Uintah County, was scratched by his family’s pet raccoon on Dec. 11. The scratch was severe enough that he underwent emergency surgery.

The agency declined to release the family’s name and didn’t have an update on his condition Thursday; however, Tonya Kieffer-Selby, outreach manager for the division, said the child does “have 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.”

The raccoon was euthanized after the incident and then sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be tested for any diseases it may have had, she added.

Wildlife officials are now using the incident as a reminder that people shouldn’t take in wildlife without a proper permit. They say it’s not only illegal but also unsafe.

“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 if people are going to be doing it legally and safely for everyone.”

Raccoons aren’t a protected species in Utah, and therefore people don’t need a license to hunt them; however, people still need a federal permit 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 from a home immediately.

In addition to possible erratic behavior, diseases are a major reason for concern. For example, raccoons may carry diseases like 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 added. “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 may be tempting to bring home adorable baby animals found in the wild. Wildlife, in general, is something that many people in Utah enjoy. The division also holds many events throughout the year where the public has a chance to enjoy viewing and interacting with wildlife.

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. “A lot of these especially non-protected species we have in Utah, bringing them in could put your family at risk for a multitude of things.”

Contributing: Mary Richards, KSL NewsRadio

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Carter Williams

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