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VERNAL — A 5-year-old boy underwent surgery last month after he was "significantly" scratched by a pet raccoon, state wildlife officials said.
The boy was playing outside near his home in Uintah County on Dec. 11 when the raccoon approached and attacked him, according to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley.
The boy's injuries were severe enough that he had to undergo surgery, DWR said.
The raccoon was euthanized after the incident, and then sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be tested for any diseases it may have had, said Tonya Kieffer-Selby, outreach manager for DWR.
The agency said that it was a family's pet raccoon. Breanna Burton, the boy's mother, reached out to KSL.com and clarified that it wasn't her family's pet and that it belonged to a neighbor.
"It was somebody's pet; however, it wasn't (our pet)," Burton said. "My son was walking and the raccoon chased my son down."
Burton said that her son has recovered from the incident, aside from some residual scarring, and is doing OK.
Wildlife officials are now using the incident as a reminder that people shouldn’t take in wildlife without a proper permit. They say it’s both illegal and unsafe.
“It’s a concern for (wildlife) health, the public’s welfare, public safety, as well as bringing these animals into your home. You can be infecting other animals — pets and other wildlife,” Kieffer-Selby said. “We want (the public) to support wildlife … Utah’s wildlife is a very big part of its heritage and culture, but we also need to make sure if people are going to be doing it legally and safely for everyone.”
Raccoons aren’t a protected species in Utah, and therefore people don’t need a license to hunt them; however, people still need a permit from the Utah Department of Agriculture to own them as pets, Kieffer-Selby said. Other animals in a similar category include coyotes, red foxes and striped skunks.
Owning those species without the proper permit may lead to a class B misdemeanor, according to DWR. The animal may also be seized from a home immediately.
In addition to possible erratic behavior, diseases are a major reason for concern. For example, raccoons may carry diseases like rabies, canine distemper, raccoon parvoviral enteritis, infectious canine hepatitis, and pseudorabies. The species can also transmit leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis, which may be lethal for unborn babies, Kieffer-Selby said.
“Some of these things they can be infected with aren’t necessarily killed by washing your hands with soap and water,” she added. “Chemicals don’t always take care of the issue when you bring in a wild animal, and they could be infected with these different bacteria, viruses or parasites.”
Kieffer-Selby said she understands it may be tempting to bring home adorable baby animals found in the wild. However, she said people should use common sense and deal with wildlife safely and legally.
“You may think bringing in an animal like this is safe; it isn't,” she said. “A lot of these especially non-protected species we have in Utah, bringing them in could put your family at risk for a multitude of things.”
Wildlife, in general, is something that many people in Utah enjoy, so DWR also holds many events throughout the year where the public has a chance to enjoy viewing and interacting with wildlife.
Contributing: Mary Richards, KSL NewsRadio