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Shelter Island’s masked critters are affected by disease

If you haven’t seen a sick raccoon on the Island, chances are you’ve noticed them appearing in the Reporter’s police blotter on a regular basis.

Shelter Island Animal Control Officer Jenny Zahler said the animals you’ve seen on roadsides, in woods, backyards — or in our Animal Incidents section — “walking like they’re drunk, staggering, unstable on their feet and falling down, are suffering from the distemper virus.”

Another symptom of the virus, Officer Zahler said, is nasal and ocular discharge, or runny noses and “like really goopy eyes.”

The virus won’t affect humans, but dogs are highly susceptible to catching it, especially those animals that are not vaccinated.

Wild life biologists have determined that distemper is prevalent in large raccoon populations or those in lesser numbers but concentrated in a small area. The biologists also note that the disease seems to run in five-to-seven-year cycles.

It’s important to get your pets vaccinated, Ms. Zahler said, to prevent them getting sick and/or dying from the virus.

She said that other towns send police officers to shoot a raccoon with distemper. “That’s fine, to put them out of their misery,” Officer Zahler said, but it’s counter productive to prevent healthy animals from catching distemper

“You shoot the raccoon, and the virus goes into the ground,” she noted. “A dog will come along sniffing and become infected,”

On Shelter Island, Ms. Zahler takes the sick animals to a veterinarian to be euthanized.

If you spot that drunken raccoon with goopy eyes, leave it alone and call Ms. Zahler at 631-749-5771. And make a plan to get your pet vaccinated.