Zombie raccoons have infiltrated Brooklyn's favorite dog oasis. amNY reports that at least two trash pandas have so far tested positive for canine distemper virus in Prospect Park, many miles and a river away from another outbreak in Central Park.
The two infected raccoons have been euthanized, but still, the Parks and Health Departments ask visitors to keep their dogs on leashes, lest the free-range puppers bumble into the path of a distempered raccoon and mistakenly attempt to make friends.
— FIDO Prospect Park (@FIDOBROOKLYN) October 8, 2018
In Central Park, at least 176 raccoons have died from the disease since June, while three other zombie raccoon cases have popped up in the Bronx.
Although distemper sounds like a tidy descriptor for my everyday mood these days, it is actually a virus that attacks its host's nervous, gastrointestinal, and respiratory systems, eating away at motor skills and coordination. The symptoms resemble those of rabies, and result in jerky, spasmodic movements, as if the animal victims weren't in control of their own bodies.
As used here, "zombie" does not imply that the unnaturally animated corpses of these refuse foragers have been staggering around the city's parks in search of brains to eat; rather, it refers to the confused, occasionally aggressive state the animals often assume before death. The infected Central Park raccoons "looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms," Dr. Sally Slavinski, an assistant Health Department director, told the NY Post. "Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge."
Per the American Veterinary Medical Association, distemper affects pooches and pups, as well as "foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mink, and ferrets, and has been reported in lions, tigers, leopards, and other wild cats, as well as seals." Probably, though, you don't walk your seal in Prospect Park; you may, however, take your land seal to any number of popular doggo destinations there: Long Meadow, Nethermead, Peninsula Meadow for off-leash hours, or Dog Beach for a dip. For now, maybe don't—or if you do, please keep your hounds leashed: Distemper spreads through direct contact, as well as shared dishes, equipment, and through the air. (Maybe just keep your pets away from their pet peers for the foreseeable?)
In a statement to Gothamist, a Parks Department official urged calm: "It would be a mischaracterization to say that distemper has spread," the official said, noting that, "While raccoon[s] travel quite freely, in urban areas they typically won't travel more than 1 or 2 miles. It is unlikely that a raccoon sick with distemper would survive the more than eight mile trip from Central Park and Pelham Bay Park." The official also pointed out that distemper is fairly common among U.S. raccoons, and that "when the virus is newly introduced in to a large, dense population of raccoons it can spread rapidly and cause widespread illness," which likely explains the Central Park outbreak.
Still, raccoons have been known to take (and ravage) the subway, and dogs certainly take the subway (never forget), so for now, please make sure your dog does not roam Prospect Park unchaperoned or untethered to your wrist: One of the infected garbage bandits was collected on the east side of the park, and the other, in Long Meadow.
In conclusion, goodnight, sweet prince:
Lazy tuesday in Prospect Park pic.twitter.com/XtvNIHG3P9
— Russ🦉owl (@russ_owl) October 2, 2018