In yesterday’s article My first flirtation with the lawlessness of global travel: 4 painful lessons, our guest blogger Lara Sterling recalls the toe-curling time in Guatemala when she was attacked by a couple of dogs and had to spend a week in hospital queues, waiting for rabies shots to her stomach. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Most of us cringe at the prospect of a trip to the dentist.
Rabies isn’t something you consider where I come from; if you’re bitten by a dog in the UK, in today’s litigious society you’ll probably phone your lawyer rather than your local hospital.
Neither is rabies foremost in your mind if you have bats roosting in your attic – you’re more likely wondering how to evict them without breaching wildlife protection laws, since bats are a protected species in many parts of the world. But around 1% of bats carry rabies, as a friend in the US discovered when she woke up to find a bat flying around her bedroom and had to undergo a course of rabies shots, just to be on the safe side.
This was my first inkling that Connecticut wildlife might consist of more than, say, a few sparrows on the bird table.
Disney cartoons – the best place for rodents
While I haven’t had bats for roommates, I’m now used to seeing certain animals in my American back yard that I’d previously only seen in Bambi or Chip n Dale. Visitors from the UK exclaim over the proliferation of gray squirrels, but I’ve adopted the jaded attitude of a Connecticut native: squirrels are just rats with good PR. If you’ve ever had one fall down the chimney into your basement, where it runs amok and tries to eat the wall insulation, you’ll know what I mean.
Other wildlife guests in our back yard party have included deer, Canada geese, snapper turtles, wild turkeys, raccoons, and, while we were waiting for the school bus one morning, a fisher cat – a member of the weasel family that has been known to attack humans. This one, however, simply gave us a very superior look and shuffled off into the woods, never to appear again. I wish I could say the same for the local mice, who seem to think they have winter squatting rights in the attic.
The skunk in Bambi might be very cute, but until you’ve smelled this animal’s musk, you can’t imagine how foul it is; the odor carries up to a mile, apparently. I’ve never seen a live skunk, although I’ve driven past plenty of roadkill. The operative word there is ‘past’ — you don’t want to drive over a recently killed skunk.
A squirmy moment came one summer when we found a three-foot-long snake in the garage. Fortunately, it was a Black Racer, and therefore not venomous – although it easily could have been. About two miles away is a preservation area affectionately known as Rattlesnake Run. Local police logs in the newspaper often carry reports of callouts to houses because of a rattlesnake sunning itself on someone’s porch.
“Old MacDonald had a…” Mum, what’s that thing called again?
The flip side of living in what is essentially a forest is that we don’t see many ‘normal’ animals. During our trip to the UK, relatives were amazed when our young children weren’t sure what the white woolly animals in fields were. They’d heard of sheep and seen pictures and Fisher Price plastic sheep…but never sheep in the flesh, as it were. Yet on the same visit, while Auntie was cooing over a stripy squirrel-like thing in a cage and wondering what it was, the kids scoffed. “Chipmunks? They’re all over the place at home. Mum can’t stand them, they dig holes everywhere.”
But definitely the most interesting encounter was when our five-year-old came in the house after playing outside, and told me that there was a dog in the yard. Wondering if our neighbor’s dog had decided to make a break for freedom, I looked out of the window. It was a dog all right, but not one you want your five-year-old to play with. While coyotes rarely attack humans, I’d seen too many episodes of Road Runner to take a chance with the statistics.
Waiting for the Big One
And finally – a few months ago, in the street where we go trick-or-treating at Halloween, police cars swarmed. A black bear had been sighted. Now, every time I’m in the kitchen and looking out at the maples and pine trees behind our house, I look a little farther into the woods, wondering what else is out there.
It can only be a matter of time.
So, tell us: Which wildlife encounter of your own would you rather not have experienced?
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