Tangle with Dusty ends badly for raccoon

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
For the Whitley family, heroes that they are, it’s a story for the ages.
Dusty, their Chihuahua, came home from Salisbury Animal Hospital Thursday morning all bruised, stitched up and outfitted with a drainage tube.
Meanwhile, the Whitleys ó Bonnie, her husband, Steve, and their son, Andy ó have started a long series of shots after they joined forces early Wednesday morning to pry Dusty from the jaws of a rabid raccoon.
Instincts and adrenaline took over for each of them as they choked, stabbed and pulled at the unrelenting raccoon, which was dragging the much smaller dog toward the woods behind their house off Country Lane.
“I stuck my fingers in the raccoon’s mouth like an idiot,” Bonnie says.
Truth be known, Bonnie says, she and Steve would do it again to save the dog they call their “grandbaby.”
The eventful morning started about 1:30, when Dusty had to make a not-so-unusual trip outside to pee.
After opening the back door for Dusty to exit, Steve left it ajar because Dusty usually finishes his business quickly and returns.
Steve or Bonnie use the time to retrieve a dog treat. Steve, service department manager at Salisbury Motor Co., had taken only a few steps away from the door when he heard Dusty’s blood-curdling scream.
Steve moved outside and spied a huge animal ó he wasn’t sure at first what it was ó pulling Dusty off the patio and into the back yard. The animal’s mouth had a death grip on the hind right quarter of Dusty and was not letting go.
To save his dog, Steve took off running and immediately grabbed the bigger animal. He tried beating the raccoon on the head, threw him around and tossed him down. All the time, the raccoon would not let go of Dusty.
“Steve was out there in nothing but his boxer shorts,” Bonnie says.
The screams of Dusty and the “thump, thump, thump” of Steve and Andy going to his rescue woke Bonnie from her sleep.
Pretty soon, she was using a steak knife to try and pry open the raccoon’s jaw, while Steve had a choke hold on the animal. Andy, 25, was using a butcher knife to stab the raccoon in the stomach.
The raccoon was long enough, Steve realized later, that while he was choking the animal standing up, its legs were clawing the tops of his knees.
After several minutes, Steve choked the breath ó and probably the life ó out of the raccoon, and the injured Dusty was free. Bonnie retrieved Steve’s rifle from the house, and he plugged the raccoon to make sure it was dead.
There wasn’t much sleeping the rest of the night.
The Whitleys couldn’t tell claw marks from bite marks, but they also were covered in blood and saliva from the raccoon.
Bonnie was sure she had been bitten when she was trying to peel Dusty away from the raccoon’s mouth.
They transported Dusty to an emergency clinic in Kannapolis, where he received some preliminary care and pain-killing medication. But he was sewed up later Wednesday morning at Salisbury Animal Hospital.
The Rowan County Animal Control Office had instructed the family to keep the raccoon refrigerated until it could be tested. The Whitleys learned later that it was positive for rabies, meaning a series of rabies shots for Bonnie, Steve and Andy.
The family will have to receive their second round of shots Sunday at Rowan Regional Medical Center with at least three more rounds over the next four weeks.
Dusty was current in his rabies shots and will be OK.
Bonnie swears the dog smiled when he saw her Thursday morning.
But Dusty, who’s back to barking when strangers are around, understandably has a new fear.
“He will not go outside unless we go with him now,” Bonnie says.