DayeTime: The smells of summer
Ahhh, the smells of summer.
Sizzling burgers on the grill, freshly cut watermelon on the table, new mown grass in the yard, chlorine in the pool and dead skunks in the road.
The last one I could live without, but it is as much a part of summer in Louisiana as the other ones.
I don’t think skunks get run over more frequently than raccoons, ‘possums and armadillos, but they definitely make you regret their passing more than their fellow wildlife do. The only ones you may regret more are deer and wild hogs that might put your car in the body shop.
There is a dead skunk at the foot of my driveway. I don’t know if its remains will be scraped up by a state highway crew or if I will have to let nature take its course in the great circle of life. I’d pick it up, but where would I put it?
I do know I truly mourn the black-and-white beast’s death and wish he had been able to live to a ripe old age and finally die many miles away from my driveway.
It isn’t just my stretch of road adorned with the odiferous carcasses of Mephitis mephitis mesomelas. A drive around Avoyelles is likely to find the same aroma hanging in the air.
No matter how airtight you think your vehicle is, skunk scent will find its way to your nostrils.
Pepe’s demise reminded me that the hot days of summer are also when rabies seems to be most likely to be encountered.
Until a migrant worker died of rabies in 2010, the last case of human rabies in Louisiana was in 1953.
It is believed the man was infected in Mexico. The disease was not obvious until he was working in Louisiana.
Lest you think that means there is nothing to fear from rabies for those who stay in Louisiana, you should remember a man was sent to the hospital in 2018 after being bitten by a rabid cat.
Rabies is still out there. There are areas of this world where it is still a major health problem. The state Department of Health reports almost eight cases of animal rabies per year.
We in this parish, state and nation usually won’t come face-to-face with a rabid animal because we do not venture into their habitat very often. In the undeveloped countries, humans and wild animals come into more frequent contact.
Bats and skunks are where most wildlife rabies starts in this parish. A few years ago I did a story on rabies and was told a third strain of rabies, this one in raccoons, is probably in the state but had not yet been documented.
In the past year or so, a “rabies-like disease” called “canine distemper” has been found in the state’s raccoons.
That disease cannot be transmitted to humans through an animal bite, but it is deadly to dogs, foxes, coyotes and -- of course -- the poor little skunks.
Many years ago a state Department of Health official told me that if you see a bat or a skunk in daylight hours, it is most likely rabid. He went on to say it is best to assume all bats and skunks have rabies, even if they don’t.
Being wrong once is all it takes to ensure you will never be wrong again.
Noel Coward once wrote, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” which also bears out the point the Health Department official was making.
If you see a bat on the ground, don’t pick it up. It may not be dead.
If you see a skunk stumbling toward you -- which is where we get the term “drunk as a skunk” -- it is sick and you need to get away from it.
Dog and cat owners -- especially in rural areas of the parish -- need to be sure their pets’ shots are current.
Even “city pets” could be in danger. Most dogs will move to repel an invader from their backyard. They are a protective animal.
I’ve known some pretty territorial cats, as well, that want to tear up anything that crosses their property line. They aren’t so much protective as they are sociopathic.
Even if the pet succeeds in dispatching a rabid animal, they can contract the disease if they are not vaccinated.
If a domestic dog or cat contracts rabies, that makes it much more likely their owners could be bitten or scratched and also be infected with the fatal illness.
Feral cats and stray dogs also pose a potential source of the disease entering the human community. They aren’t separated from the wildlife by a fence and don’t spend any time inside with their people.
They are outside 24/7, and so are the rabid animals.
Rabies is rare. Let’s keep it that way.
Don’t forget to visit your vet.