Apparently sick raccoons taking to local streets following distemper outbreak in Prospect Park

Apparently sick raccoons taking to local streets following distemper outbreak in Prospect Park
Stephanie Carman

Addled raccoons possibly infected with the dog-killing distemper virus are wandering out of Prospect Park and onto the streets of surrounding neighborhoods, according to numerous residents who reported no less than three sightings, including one Kensington woman who claimed the masked bandits are literally falling from the sky.

Local Phyllis Klein said a “huge” raccoon fell — either from a tree, or off the side of a building — feet from her head during a midday Dec, 11 stroll along E. Seventh Street between Church and Caton avenues, before the beast limped off in a daze.

“I wish I could un-see it,” she said. “It still gives me chills.”

Klein’s encounter with the seemingly sick raccoon mirrored others’ daytime run-ins with the typically nocturnal animals, which this fall began spreading the distemper virus in Prospect Park, after an earlier outbreak plagued raccoons in Manhattan’s Central Park over the summer.

Distemper — which is spread by contact with infected animals’ saliva, or fluids in their coughs and sneezes — doesn’t affect humans, but the virus can prove deadly to pups, which, like raccoons, will suffer brain and nervous-system damage resulting in severe confusion and death if left untreated.

Following confirmation of the distemper outbreak among area raccoons, Department of Parks and Recreation officials instituted a still in effect advisory to locals, warning them to leash their dogs, avoid wildlife, and seek immediate treatment if they or their mutts are scratched or bitten by a feral critter in Brooklyn’s Backyard.

Agency workers to date collected some 87 Prospect Park raccoons — dead and alive — to be tested for the virus, of which, only seven tested positive, with the most recent positive case dating back to Oct. 23, according to Parks spokeswoman Meghan Lalor.

But some Brooklynites, like Klein, claimed to spot sick raccoons in Kensington and Windsor Terrace long after the last animal from the park tested positive for distemper, suggesting the borough’s masked bandits may be unwittingly transporting the virus beyond the park while searching for food.

Dog walker Randi Lass said she came in contact with a raccoon at the corner of Greenwood Avenue and E. Third Street on Nov. 25, and contacted a Parks Department worker after noticing the animal walking around in circles. But the local did not stick around to see if the agency attended to the critter, she said.

And another extremely ill raccoon showed up on the sidewalk outside of an Ocean Parkway apartment building between Church Avenue and Beverly Road the evening of Nov. 7, according to a resident, who said the animal had trouble standing and left piles of either diarrhea, vomit, or both in its wake.

“You could tell it was in a lot of distress,” said Stephanie Carman.

Carman’s neighbor made several 311 and 911 calls seeking aid from the city following the raccoon sighting, which resulted in police doing one lap of her block in a patrol car without stopping, she said.

The next day, Carman spotted the animal in the front courtyard of a nearby building and, assuming it was dead, said she called the Department of Sanitation, where workers allegedly told her the agency would only dispose of the carcass if she ferried it to a public sidewalk.

But the raccoon showed signs of life after she hung up with the Sanitation Department, so Carman said she reached out to Animal Care and Control — where she claimed reps didn’t return her call — before contacting 911, whose operators dispatched another patrol car to the scene. But the cops that arrived claimed they couldn’t find the beast, Carman said.

“The police did come, and basically said they never saw him, although my suspicion is they didn’t do a lot of work to try and find him,” she said.

Another neighbor, however, claimed to have an even harder time getting the city — which encourages locals to call 311 about any sick raccoons spotted on public or private property, and to call the cops if an animal gets aggressive — to address the wayward animal.

“I called 311 and they said, ‘Tough s—,’ ” said Joselyn Muhleisen. “Basically, if we wanted a sick raccoon removed we needed to hire a private service or to leave it alone.”

And Carman, who said the raccoon was gone the morning after she asked the Sanitation Department and police to retrieve it, blasted officials for being so unconcerned about animals that she said pose serious health risks to local humans and their canines.

“I put in a lot of efforts on behalf of my dog, and my neighbor’s dogs, but this is the city’s problem,” she said. “I don’t understand how they don’t care about a public-health crisis.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.