By GWEN OREL
For a pet owner, little is more frightening than a creature hurling itself at your beloved fur baby, intent to do damage.
When Sonia Rapaport walked outside with her 3-year-old Portuguese water dog Teddy, she was startled by an animal that attacked them.
Both Teddy and she were bitten, as Rapaport tried to separate the animals.
Rapaport posted about the event on the Facebook group Secret Montclair.
“I was on my front lawn with Teddy. He was on his leash, going to the bathroom, and the next thing you know, an animal came out of nowhere and jumped on him,” Rapaport said. It was too dark to see what kind of animal it was, but it was on its back biting Teddy. Teddy was biting back.
“I was screaming. My husband said he didn’t know I could scream that loud,” Rapaport said. The fight lasted about a minute before she could separate the animals.
Her husband tried to separate them, and the animal ran at him.
She brought the dog inside, but she saw some blood. After she washed him off she called an emergency number her vet knew, who told her she could wait until the next day. The dog was behaving normally.
But the next morning he went to the vet, Marsh Animal Hospital in Verona. Dr. Mark Milwicki performed surgery on two muscle tears: Teddy was lucky not to have an artery torn, Rapaport said.
Now, he has a cone and shaved leg. “He won’t leave my side,” she said.
Rapaport was also bitten, and is not sure which animal did it. “It could be a little of each,” she said. She went to the ER at Mountainside.
At first she thought it might be a coyote. Later an opossum. After speaking to Montclair Township Animal Control Supervisor Michelle Shiber, she now thinks it was likely a raccoon.
Shiber wishes she had been called right away, though she does not think this animal was rabid.
STEPS TO TAKE: KEEPING SAFE
The first thing to do if your dog or cat gets bitten by an animal is call Animal Control, Shiber said.
Whenever an animal bites a human being, Animal Control receives a report within 12 hours.
In the report from Mountainside hospital, the description of the animal just did not sound like a possum, Shiber said.
“In my experience, possums do not behave in that manner. Their first defense is to open their mouths and look ferocious, but then if you approach them they will run,” she said. “I’ve never heard of anybody getting attacked by a possum.
“I don’t want people to have an irrational fear of possums.”
It would be very unusual for a possum (an opossum and a possum are the same animal) to have rabies, as their body temperature is too low to sustain the virus, Shiber said, but in any case, it is not clear that the raccoon was rabid.
The animal might well have been startled when Rapaport came outside with her dog.
Unlike possums, raccoons will fight first and flee second, Shiber said. Especially if it had food and saw an animal approaching it, the raccoon’s behavior would not be unusual.
VISIBLE, NOT RABID
One misconception Shiber hopes to clear up is the idea that seeing wildlife by day means it is rabid.
It may be unusual to see a fox or raccoon by day, but its behavior, not schedule, is what marks an animal as rabid.
“If you see a raccoon at 3 p.m. sitting on a garbage can eating, that’s a healthy animal taking advantage of a free, quick meal,” Shiber said. “Foxes are out there because there are more squirrels out there, and they are trying to catch a square meal.”
If the animal is not behaving erratically or drunkenly, it’s probably not rabid, she said.