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Posted on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 : 6:45 p.m.

4th skunk with rabies found in 6 months on Ann Arbor's west side

By Danny Shaw


Catherine Shaffer and Courage, who killed a skunk last week on Ann Arbor's west side. The rabies test came back positive on Monday. Both are up-to-date on vaccinations.

Chris Asadian |

A dog's skirmish with a skunk last week on Ann Arbor’s west side took a serious turn Monday when the pet's owners learned that the wild animal had rabies.

The skunk tested positive for the fatal virus, confirmed Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, the public information officer for the Washtenaw County Public Health Department.

The incident on Doty marked the fourth confirmed report of a rabid skunk since September on the west side near the Miller Nature Area.

That concentration of infected skunks in one area is something they will be monitoring.

“We have a little bit of concern about it in that area,” Ringler-Cerniglia said. “We are going to check in at the state-level to see what we can do to look into the animal population in that area."

Ringler-Cerniglia said she recommends anyone who suspects an animal of having rabies to immediately contact animal control and they will investigate the situation.

Courage, a red-gold English Mastiff, was enticed by what his owner, Catherine Shaffer, said were two skunks “acting strangely” near his yard.

The skunks sprayed the dog, but wouldn't leave the edge of the yard, prompting Courage to try to get through the fence and reach them.

Shaffer said he had killed one of the skunks, but the other, larger one got away.

She said rabies wasn’t something she was worried about, considering Courage is up-to-date on his vaccines, and received a booster shot.

“I felt pretty sure he’s OK,” Shaffer said.

However, Courage had cut his mouth on the fence during the scuffle.

Even though she didn’t have direct exposure with the skunk, Shaffer is going through the rabies vaccination process since she did handle her dog’s mouth after the incident.

“I’m going to go ahead and get the series of shots,” she said. “It really is out of an abundance of caution.”

Fewer than 10 human rabies fatalities occur in the United States per year, according to national data. However, as many as 40,000 Americans receive the vaccine each year after contact with animals suspected of being rabid.

The viral disease affects the central nervous system and is nearly always fatal.

Shaffer reported the incident after learning about three skunks in her area having rabies at the end of 2011.

“I think I’m a little more worried now,” Shaffer said. “I hadn’t been thinking about rabies all that much, but now I know there’s animals right here with it.”

Dr. Cathy Theisen, a local veterinarian, said there are signs of rabies all pet owners should be aware of in case their pets come into contact with an animal acting strangely.

"A normal, healthy skunk should be afraid of you and your pet and only come out at night,” she said. “If you see any animal acting strange - it walks around acting drunk, seems not all there - you should get you and your pets away and call animal control immediately.”

Theisen said the disease can pass through the saliva of an infected animal, even after death, so careful handling is important.

She also recommended regular rabies vaccines for pets.

Ringler-Cerniglia said the skunk is the first animal in Washtenaw County to test positive for rabies in 2012.

In 2011, six animals were confirmed to have rabies in the county. That's the 2nd-highest total since 2004, with the highest coming in 2007. In that year, 11 cases of rabies were identified - and all of those involved bats.

See Washtenaw County rabies information.

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Brent Shaffer

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Despite the popularity of sophomoric comments, this is a real public health issue, hence the coverage. Rabies is not a larger threat in the US because it is taken seriously. Vaccination of pets and livestock disrupts transmission and is the primary defense for humans. Late last summer Animal Control removed a raccoon which appeared in the middle of the afternoon. It was disoriented and unable to climb a tree or control its hind legs. This was suspected to be distemper. In the absence testing, and given these occurrences, I now wonder. For those unfamiliar with this area of AA, there is a great deal of undeveloped habitat snaking through it in the form of deep ravines along Allen Creek. A pleasant forested feel, but lots of habitat and forage for skunks and raccoons, even without the bonus of lawns, gardens, compost heaps, cat bowls, bird feeders, etc... Vaccinate your pets!


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 7:27 a.m.

Even better adapted to human urban environments are raccoons. Just wait 'til a rabies epidemic starts among those critters. BTW: I'd be interested in hearing from AA Animal Control just what they do to deal with those reported rabid skunks and raccoons. As a boy, I was an intrepid live trapper of wildlife (much to my parents' alarm). A friend of mine and I once captured a live adult skunk - carrying it half a mile: we brought it to my house. Like all such "specimens" I kept that animal only for a day of observation. Of course, we both reeked to high heaven for a couple of days but it was an experience one remembers for a life time. My serial menagerie included 4 raccoons captured at one time, enumerable snakes - including a Massasauga rattlesnake, over 50 turtles, a cottontail rabbit, a Mallard drake, other bird species and an American alligator - not the "caymans" sold in pet shops. At age 11, I appeared with regular guest Paul Allen on Mort Neff's Michigan Outdoors TV show with my alligator.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

"Both are up to date on vaccinations"? The dog and the skunk??


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

You guys know you misspelled "rabid" in the URL?


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:08 p.m. Staff: It would be great if you could post a phone number to contact if we have a skunk that needs to be removed, and possibly tested. Last summer we had a skunk, no stripe, the kids called him...because he didn't have one. He wandered around in our back yard for a week or so, and I was sure he had either distemper or rabies by his drunk-acting actions. My 14-year old daughter saw him underneath the edge of the deck one day, and he was dead. I called around, and found no one to come and take him away, or test him for rabies or distemper. I live in A2 city limits, a stone's throw from Pioneer. I'm glad Courage is okay, and so sorry that Catherine will have to go through the series of shots.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

Thanks, Catherine. The skunks are here every year, but when I called around last summer I couldn't find anyone who wanted to be bothered with a sickly, or a dead skunk.

Catherine Shaffer

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

The Humane Society of Huron Valley removes sick animals. You can call them if this happens again.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1 p.m.

Here's a question......Is seeing a skunk in the middle of the day cause for concern ? I saw one last summer walking across my yard ( about 135 ft) across the road and into the yard across the street in the middle of the day.I found that odd and was thinking about rabies


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

Curious as to what kind of test the dog had for rabies that was negative. The only way to test is on brain tissue.

Catherine Shaffer

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

Courage was not tested for rabies. That was incorrect.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 6:14 a.m.

Sorry the dog had an encounter with a rabid skunk. Always feed my puppy and cats inside the house. (puppy only goes outside to go potty) and I watch every move he makes. Yes, in York Twp. we have deer, raccoons, skunks, fox and coyotes. You want to see raccoons? Go to some of the mobile home parks, where many feed stray cats on their decks. A few years ago, as I was leaving for work, I let my two little poodles out, they both got sprayed in the face. It was awful, needless to say I didn't go to work that day.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 5:52 a.m.

Skunks beware, rabid or not. Courage still looks pretty hungry to me.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 5:50 a.m.

I have to agree with others here, if you are going to post a story here that suggests calling someone in an emergency (animal control) then that info should be included in a box for the readers within the article. (you post numbers for in other articles). The links provided in the comment section didn't help much, for all the sunshine blowing A2 does about itself with all the bike lanes and green spaces and public art there isn't a simple answer available for what number to call to reach "animal control", totally and completely pathetic.

Dog Guy

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 4:46 a.m.

Rabid skunks, deer everywhere, squirrels chewing engine lines, rampant raccoons, feral pets . . . and you can never find a coyote when you need one!

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

Have a couple out our way you are welcome to.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:18 a.m.

I was walking my dog near West Park in December when she went nuts on the leash and starting pulling. I looked to where she was pulling toward and saw a skunk just standing there looking at us from about 10 ft. away. I got us away as fast as I could and noticed the skunk did not try to spray us nor did it run away. I thought it was a dumb skunk but now realize it probably was rabid.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

smokeblwr......Really come on now....a DOG chasing a skunk ? Not sure if you realize it but dogs are not people and there is this strange and rare thing with dogs.It's called instinct . Dogs with rabies....rare Skunks with rabies......not so rare


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

Was it rabid or was your dog rabid? Which animal was the aggressor?


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:45 a.m.

The bigger concern here is how will the rabies impact the mating plans for the skunks on Valentine's Day?


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.



Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.

On the face of it, it appears one of the better things one can do to control rabid skunks is to lay in a goodly supply of English Mastiffs for perimeter patrol. Judging simply by appearance, however, you should be prepared to convert that spare room into a kibbles n' bits storage facility.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

look at the size of the feet of that dog.Thing is a horse.Hate to pay its food bill


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:11 a.m.

One of the best things pet owners can do to control skunk populations is to feed your pets indoors. Pet food left outside in a bowl is an open invitation for skunks, who just love the stuff. My girlfriend's lakeside neighborhood was overrun with skunks for several years until the idiots up the street who were setting out food for their cats moved away. Once they were gone, the skunks left as well, only to return last fall when some clod tossed out his leftover deer bait apples by dumping them by the road. If you don't want skunks, don't feed them! Simple enough. That includes putting a strap over the lid to your garbage can, which is basically a skunk deli.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

re compost piles: they can be attractive to skunks if they have sweet things (apple cores for instance) in them. Skunks may also dig in them to get worms. They don't eat greens, or dead leaves, or roots. You can make your pile less attractive by keeping the proportion of sweet stuff low (add lots of dead leaves, grass clippings stuff like that), and by making it hard to dig in to, with fencing. Turning the pile regularly will help, by speeding up decomposition. Skunks don't like moldy apple peels. We could also set aside fruit scraps for the city's curbside compostable pickup, or use enclosed tumbling composters. Tumblers cost more than a pile, but they work fast and can be very convenient -- here's a local source: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

I hate to be dumb about this, but no one has mentioned compost piles. I'm assuming my compost pile with vegetable garden and kitchen scraps is a problem? Even burying them?


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 12:38 a.m.

How do you contact animal control?


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

Here you go guys, I had to contact this office last year after I woke up one morning to a bat silently flying around my bedroom. If you have a suspected rabid animal in your house you have to kill or capture it or they can not do any tests to know for certain so make sure you don't let it get away like I did! <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:02 a.m.

David, in other words no answer.

David Martel

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:59 a.m.

Kathryn - You raise a good question. It can often be confusing where to turn in these instances. The Humane Society of Huron Valley is often a great resource when you've spotted injured or sick wildlife. Information on "Emergency Rescue" can be found here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> As far as animal control, the city of Ann Arbor's animal control information can be found at: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> This page also directs you to the Humane Society website for "Emergency Rescue." The Humane Society of Huron Valley and Washtenaw County have reached a tentative deal for animal control services for 2012. reported on this agreement just this past week: <a href=""></a> This past April also published an article about orphaned wildlife: <a href=""></a>


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:41 a.m.

First you would have to be sure you live in a community which still HAS animal control. Ann Arbor cut it years ago.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 12:11 a.m.

The comment from the vet is a bit misleading--skunks are commonly active at twilight and dawn.

Ann English

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

Wherever I've lived, I've seen skunks active between 6am and 9am, or at dusk. Those were the times my fox terrier got sprayed. The most recent time I saw a whole family of skunks in the back yard, the sun was shining brightly, but it was mid-morning at the latest. My yellow labrador would sometimes bark loudly outdoors at night, but she never came inside from those times smelling of skunk spray.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:50 a.m.

Twilight and dawn? Then how come all three of my dogs were sprayed in the middle of the night? And each incident was years apart. Around this area (Pittsfield Township between Ypsi and Ann Arbor) we mainly see or smell skunks after it is totally dark.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

Something must be done about the scourge of rabid skunks, and the dangers they pose to our fair town. I urge the Ann Arbor city council to take swift action to combat this plague. For starters, there should be a warning system, including bright neon signs and strobe lights, to be installed in any area where rabid skunks have been reported.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 5:45 a.m.

Touchy? Hardly. While I'm slightly saddened that sbbuilder and a few others don't share my sense of humor, I'm happy that the majority of the readers do. At least, it would appear so to anyone observant enough to notice that the two most popular posts on this topic have humourous intent.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 2:47 a.m.

smc Touchy, touchy. But, more to the point, both animals share the same environment, cross paths multiple times every day, and sometimes infect one another. But don't take my word. Ask the humane society. &quot;We have a little bit of concern about it in that area," Ringler-Cerniglia said. "We are going to check in at the state-level to see what we can do to look into the ANIMAL population in that area.&quot; (emphasis mine) Don't see where they are going to limit the search to skunks. Wanna try for another round?


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 7:52 p.m.

This discussion is about the dangers of free-roaming rabid skunks. Don't try to change the subject by bringing up feral cats, which have nothing to do with the issue at hand. They'll have their own warning system, once the feral cat threat is properly assessed by special-interest groups.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

...until one of your kids is bitten by a feral cat, and you can't catch the cat to test it. Then, it becomes very, very real. It's just so much fun and games, and a barrel of laughs for a little kid to have a whole series of rabies shots. Oh, and we live within a block of the recent skunk incident. Cheers.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 6:21 a.m.

I'm sorry, it is wrong of me to make light of an incident where no people or pets were injured, especially when the incident involved a dread disease that is responsible for literally several deaths in United States each year.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 2:40 a.m.

Get a grip...this isn't funny.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 1:23 a.m.

You find this funny?