A North Dakota woman is facing misdemeanor charges after bringing a wild raccoon with her to a local bar earlier this month. Authorities arrested Erin Christensen of Maddock, North Dakota, after locating her and the raccoon she named “Rocky.”
She is currently charged with misdemeanor counts of providing false information to law enforcement, tampering with physical evidence, and unlawful possession of furbearers. These charges could result in maximum sentencing of about two years in jail and $7,500 in fines.
According to the North Dakota Board of Animal Health laws, it is illegal to keep a wild raccoon. Still, on September 6th, during happy hour, Christensen brought Rocky with her to the Maddock Bar and showed the animal off to patrons of the bar.
Cindy Smith, the bartender at the Maddock Bar, reported that she immediately asked Christensen to leave and that no one in the bar was bit by the animal. Regardless, the incident prompted North Dakota’s Health and Human Services Department to issue a warning to the public about potential rabies exposure. Their statement asked anyone who may have been bitten or had contact with the raccoon’s saliva to seek medical care immediately. Authorities have since euthanized the raccoon for rabies testing and learned the wild animal tested negative.
Although this may seem like a harsh punishment for Rocky, obtaining tissue samples from the brain stem and cerebellum is the most reliable method to test for rabies. Although the animal must be euthanized, this process is essential to ensure public health and safety.
The CDC describes rabies as a fatal but preventable viral disease. The disease spreads to humans and other animals when they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. In the United States, rabies is mostly found in wild animals, such as bats, raccoons, and skunks. Rabies prevention includes vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start.
Christensen reports that her family found the raccoon about three months ago on the side of a road. They then decided to take it in and gave it the name Rocky. She also said they planned to nurse the animal back to health and eventually release it back into the wild.
“It’s unfair,” Christensen said in a statement to the Bismarck Tribune. “Too much was done to detain an innocent raccoon.” Christensen faces her charges in her initial court appearance on Monday.