When it comes to dealing with rabid animals, some residents are misunderstanding signs put up by the Pueblo City-County Health Department.
The signs instruct residents to contact animal control if they see any strange or odd animal behavior. That's led some to think that animal control is responsible for getting rid of the sick animal, and that's not the case.
Animal control normally deals with domestic animals, leaving the Department of Wildlife or the U.S. Department of Agriculture to handle wild animal issues. Such is the case with wild rabid animals like skunks.
There have been five rabid skunks found in Pueblo over the last seven months. Signs are up in areas where they have been found, warning the public.
Right now, the flow of information when people find rabid skunks has not been streamlined, mostly because this is a new problem Pueblo County is only now facing for the first time. For years, Pueblo County has dealt with rabid bats, but never skunks.
The rabies found in the skunks has made its way into Colorado from the south east. A different rabies variant is found in Colorado Springs, having moved in from the north east. Rabies strains of all types are slowly making their way across the country from east to west.
Prior to 2010, Pueblo had no cases of rabid skunks. The first case was found in June of 2010, three more were discovered by the end of the year. A fifth case was found in January, making Pueblo County the first one in the state to have a case this year.
The health department expects to continue to see cases in skunks and other four-legged animals year round from now on.
The spread of rabies may not have been sudden, but it still caught the county off guard. Now, everyone is playing catch-up. "We have been meeting to try and get to the forefront of this, and get everybody up and ready and see who's going to handle what," says Vicki Carlton, program director for consumer protection programs at the Pueblo City-County Health Department.
For now, a contractor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have to come out and trap rabid skunks as they are found. The Department of Wildlife may assist from time to time, as well.
The health department says, their main concern is for the safety of people and their pets. They recommend keeping pets on a leash when they aren't in a fenced-in yard.
If you are confronted by a skunk, you should back away slowly, says Carlton. If it's a normal skunk, you may get sprayed and it should run away. If it turns aggressive or is stumbling around disoriented, it may be rabid. In the case of the latter you should not let it bite or scratch you or your pet.
Getting your pet vaccinated against rabies will prevent the animal from getting the disease if they are exposed to it.