Ohio toddler in crib attacked by wild raccoon

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Thu, Jul. 18, 2002  

Toddler is attacked in crib by wild raccoon
Population surge puts more critters in Akron

By Julie Wallace, Beacon Journal staff writer



Holly Maxwell holds her son, Trent, who still bears the mark of the raccoon that crawled into their home on Crouse Street and attacked him in his crib on Friday, July 12th. Trent is 20 months old. Photo by Ken Love, ABJ

Trent Maxwell's face bears out his ordeal: The toddler's cheek is scraped and cut, and there's a jagged line of stitches just beneath his left eye.

The 20-month-old, health officials say, was attacked by a raccoon that crawled into his crib as he slept Friday night in his Crouse Street home.

``I think I flew to his room,'' said Holly Maxwell, his mother. ``I was running down the street with him just screaming.''

Maxwell spent the weekend at Children's Medical Center of Akron with her son, who was held through Sunday to make certain there was no infection. Three stitches were needed to close the wound.

Raccoon bites are hardly common in Akron. Last year, health officials logged only one from throughout the city.

But both local and state officials say there has been a surge in the raccoon population throughout Ohio.

Dan Kramer, an Akron-based district wildlife supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said one study that often is quoted determined that the raccoon population in the state grew 500 percent from the late 1980s into the 1990s.

A more recent study -- compiled by counting the number of dead animals in the same spots of the road from March to April and July to August each year -- found a 6 percent increase in the state's raccoon population from 2000 to 2001, he said.

The reason for the increase?

In Maxwell's neighborhood, residents blame a garbage transfer station less than a block away on Fountain Street for the increase in their neighborhood -- an allegation city sanitarians dispute.

Wildlife officials say raccoons are hardy -- they can scavenge for food and aren't particular about the menu, and there are essentially no predators in the Ohio wilderness for them.

Kramer said it is unusual for a raccoon to feel comfortable enough to wander inside a home. But a raccoon that is accustomed to people -- perhaps because someone in the neighborhood is leaving food out for it -- might just do that, he said.

``When he didn't find food, the infant he encountered was the unfortunate end result,'' Kramer said.

Holly Maxwell was sitting in her living room about 11 p.m. Friday when she saw a shadow from the corner of her eye and assumed it was Lucy, the family cat. Then, she saw Lucy on the other side of the room and knew it was something else.

``It was right behind here,'' she said, pointing behind her chair. ``It was kind of a skinny, little raccoon.''

She walked out the back door hoping it would follow. Instead, it wandered into the kitchen and went through the trash. When it went into the downstairs bathroom off the kitchen, she came back inside and tried to lock it in there -- only to lose sight of it when it managed to elude lockup.

Her husband wasn't home, so she walked to the front porch and called her brother-in-law, an Akron firefighter, for help. That's when her son started screaming.

She said she raced up the stairs and passed Lucy and the raccoon as they darted down the stairs.

``It's the last thing you expect -- a raccoon to come upstairs,'' she said, calming her wiggling son using his pet name, ``Peanut.''

They assume the raccoon got in through an open basement window -- a window that now is securely closed.

Trent still has to undergo a series of rabies shots because the raccoon wasn't captured.

``He looks like a little boxer,'' said William Maxwell, his father. ``He's doing OK.''

William Maxwell said the family never had problems with animals at the home until Waste Management Inc. started expanding the nearby garbage transfer station.

The transfer station has been a bane to the neighborhood for years, with residents complaining about the smell and increases in wildlife, and it even spurred a lawsuit that recently was settled with an agreement that it will relocate within three years.

Aixa Bakuhn, a sanitarian with the Akron Health Department, said she doesn't think the transfer station is to blame for the raccoons in that area. She said she lives on the other side of town, and she too has seen a surge in the number of raccoons around her own home.

Bakuhn, who arranged for two traps to be set up in the family's back yard, said the wooded area behind Crouse Street provides a safe haven for the animals.

Councilman Joe Finley, D-1, said he's hoping the city can figure out some way to address the raccoon infestation throughout the city -- and in particular by the garbage transfer station.

``There is an extremely heavy population of raccoons there because of the transfer station,'' he said, ``and because of that heavy population, there is an increased risk.''


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Julie Wallace can be reached at 330-996-3542 or jwallace@thebeaconjournal.com  
 

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