MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Homeowners are reporting more incidents of sick foxes, raccoons, and coyotes wandering into their yards. A wildlife removal specialist says there is an outbreak of the distemper virus spreading across the state and the country.
Russell Cavender, known as the Snake Chaser, says he has been called to remove at least 40 dead or dying animals, and he has gotten at least double that amount of phone calls asking what to do about a sick animal. He says the majority of the calls have been to the North Myrtle Beach and Little River area. But he has removed animals sick with distemper all over Horry and Georgetown Counties and into North Carolina.
If you see a fox, raccoon, or coyote stumbling in your yard or dead in your yard, you need to be careful. Distemper is a very painful disease brought on by a nasty virus. The animals will tear at their skin, face, and fur out of delirious pain. And their body temperature rises so high, that's typically what will kill them.
"This is a way nature keeps animals from growing and overpopulating," says Cavender. "It is a necessary evil, but it happens. I've seen it and it's sad. It's a horrible, horrible disease for these animals to go through."
Cavender believes this strain of the distemper virus will eliminate 25 percent of the local raccoon and fox population.
The virus does not affect humans. But pet dogs or cats can get infected by the airborne virus if they are not vaccinated against distemper.
If you see an animal with distemper, your best option is to leave it alone. Cavender says it will hopefully wander off and die in the woods. But it if collapses or dies in your yard, you need to dispose of it properly.
If you need to kill it, you have the option to euthanize the animal yourself or call the professionals. According to Cavender, you have every right to shoot and kill a wild animal that is a health hazard and threatening your safety. But you must follow city and county codes for shooting a firearm.
With distemper, these animals will have bouts of weakness and then sporadic bouts of aggression. "The aggression part is rare but it can happen," warns Cavender. "So if you don't handle the animal properly, you can be injured. And if you're bitten and you don't properly test the animal, then you'll have to go through post-exposure rabies vaccinations. So in my opinion, if you don't have a weapon and you don't have a place to put the animal, that you should call somebody."
Cavender says it is virtually impossible to disinfect your whole yard if an animal with distemper dies there. But he says you need to clean and disinfect the area where the animal died or was killed. And Cavender says the animal's body must be buried not just thrown away in the trash.