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‘Freaking out’: Manitoba woman’s dog attacked by rabid skunk, sparking concern

A skunk is seen in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Critter Care Wildlife Society,

A Manitoba woman is trying to get the word out after her dog was attacked by a skunk that later tested positive for rabies.

Ashley Bartel, who lives near Oakbank, said she was unnerved after her husband called her with the news.

“I was freaking out just a little bit. My first question of course was, ‘Is Lopen OK?’ Because skunks can deal some damage — absolutely. (And) Lopen’s my big, soft, loving boy, so of course I wanted to make sure he was OK,” she said.

She added the culprit had been spotted a couple of times before her dog was attacked.

“It had ticks all over its head, and it kind of looked a little mangy, like the fur was not good. So I thought it was just kind of sickly. It was actually in my goat pen when I first saw it,” Bartel said.

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It wasn’t long before Lopen had seen it, sniffed it, and sent it running under their deck. Not long after, she said, it made a run at her mother-in-law.

“It came out of the forest and it chased my in-law out of the garden. So at that point, we knew it probably was rabid,” she said.

The very next day, the skunk ran out from under her deck stairs and attacked Lopen.

After the attack, Bartel said her family ventured out to find and put the skunk down. When they succeeded, they handed it over to the province for testing, and it came back positive.

Fortunately, Bartel says, Lopen was unharmed, but was given a rabies booster vaccine just in case.

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“We’re very lucky that nobody was harmed because it could have gotten my mother-in-law,” she said. “Also I milk my goats just outside the place where it came out from under the house and attacked, so it could have attacked me.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, a provincial spokesperson said skunks in southern Manitoba circulate and maintain the rabies virus in the population every year, “which means there is always a risk that skunks in Manitoba have rabies.”

They said skunks pose the highest risk for rabies of all wildlife, followed by arctic foxes and bats.

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The skunk that attacked Lopen was one of two that week that tested positive for the disease in the same area — a stat that has pet owners in the area feeling wary.

“I have a dog, so I’m a huge animal lover, so obviously that’s really concerning. Like, I hope that no more dogs get hurt,” said Kelsey Schreibmaier, the owner of a 13-year-old Lab.

Laura Janzen, who walks her two small pups through Birds Hill Park almost every day, said she may be taking some extra equipment with her from now on.

“Maybe a little bit more protection, maybe a little walking stick or something to protect my little guys with,” she said. “I don’t want to get skunked, and neither do they, and I don’t want them to get rabies at all.”

Debra Vandekerkhove, the managing director and founder of Manitoba Animal Alliance, says this is especially problematic for people in remote communities.

“You have a roaming dog population that is generally unvaccinated for the most part. And rabies is a contagious disease to all other species, including humans,” she said.

But, Vandekerkhove noted, there is programming unrolling to help those areas access rabies vaccines for their four-legged friends.

Dr. Mahmoud Khodaveisi, a medical officer of health with Southern Health-Santé Sud, said rabies is almost always fatal.

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“Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system and eventually the brain,” he said. “If someone is bitten by a stray animal, or a wild animal — even other animals — they should seek medical attention as soon as possible … usually within 24 hours.”

He said symptoms could be similar to those of the flu, but once someone starts showing signs of the disease, it’s usually too late to stop it.

“There is no treatment for rabies, but there is highly effective post-exposure prophylaxis,” or a “post-exposure vaccine.”

Vandekerkhove said there are some signs that a skunk, or perhaps other animal, may be rabid.

“Disoriented swaying is what you’re looking for, and having no fear of you. Generally, when they hear you or see you, they are turning and going the opposite way, not coming towards you,” she said.

The province lists further information about rabies on its website.

“Any potential human exposures should seek immediate medical attention and/or call Health Links – Info Santé (204-788-8200/ 1-888-315-9257). All potential animal exposures can be reported to the Manitoba Agriculture Rabies Line (204-470-1108), and animals should receive veterinary care at their local clinic,” it said.

Click to play video: 'Five baby skunks have called a St. Boniface yard home'
Five baby skunks have called a St. Boniface yard home

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