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Dog lovers warn about disease dangers

Reports of raccoons with symptoms of canine distemper

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Members of a canine-loving volunteer group are warning dog owners to be vigilant of disease-carrying raccoons this summer.


The province recently advised owners about a number of reports of raccoons showing symptoms of canine distemper in Winnipeg and Headingley in recent weeks.


Humans are not at risk from the disease.


Provincial officials said the disease can easily be transferred from raccoons to dogs. When infected, dogs can suffer a "progress deterioration of mental abilities and motor skills," states a new release from the province, noting reports have come from areas with typically high raccoon populations, such as near the Red and Assiniboine rivers and the Corydon Avenue area.


Kim Zebiere, executive director of Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert, said all dog owners should be aware of the potential outbreak and take preventative measures.


"Make sure your dogs are vaccinated. That’s the number one priority," said Zebiere, who lives in St. Boniface.


"Also, a lot of people might not be aware of the problem, as they can’t necessarily see what stage the raccoons are at. Another big thing is if they’re out during the day, there’s usually something wrong."


Symptoms for infected raccoons include disoriented or lethargic behaviour, crusted eyes, foaming at the nose and mouth and laboured breathing, she said.


WDLA director Corinne Nykorak recently came within three feet of what she suspected was an infected raccoon, which she spotted dodging traffic in Waverley West.


"I know that it was sick because I’m originally from the country and I grew up around wildlife," said Nykorak, who lives in Weston.


"It had eyeball goobers and was up on its hind feet and falling backwards. It was not a pretty sight and very sad."


To prevent the animal from wandering off, Nykorak "threw him food to stay near me and keep him close by to be safe" and called conservation officers, who eventually arrived and captured it.


"My message is to make sure your dogs have their shots, don’t let them go roaming without you or without a leash and please tell kids to keep away," she said.


Community members can reduce the number of raccoons near their homes by securing garbage and removing other temptations, including bird feeders and outside pet food bowls, officials say.


Residents who see a raccoon with suspected symptoms are advised to keep people and pets away from it and call Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship at 204-945-5221.


For more information on preventing raccoon problems, visit www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/wildlife/problem_wildlife/raccoon.html.


WDLA is a volunteer-run group that helps reunite lost dogs with their owners through a search-focused support network. To learn more, visit Facebook and search for Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert.

simon.fuller@canstarnews.com

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