2006_12_raccoon.jpgBeware of that cute stray cat you see in Staten Island - the borough is facing a a "frightening" spread of rabies. The Staten Island Advance reports that City Councilman Michael McMahon wants to convene an emergency task force made up of the health department and NYPD, as "23 raccoons, three skunks and three cats have been found with rabies" since April. A West Brighton man who found a stray kitten and brought it to a veterinarian was bitten while at the vet's - the staff suspects the kitten (which died a little later) had rabies.

The Advance speaks to vets who offer these warnings:

For example, they say, if Islanders see a cute little raccoon in their backyard, staring at their children as they run around under an afternoon sun, it would be a good idea to pull the kids inside. If raccoons aren't discouraged by daylight, "that could be a sign," Ms. [Veterinary Emergency Center manager Fran] Lansinger said. "They're not supposed to be out in the day."

People should not approach wildlife, especially if they seem overly friendly, said Dr. Mary Harrison, a veterinarian at the South Shore Animal Hospital in New Dorp.

All pets need to get rabies shots annually.

To encourage owners to do this, South Shore Animal Hospital is offering free shots with examinations, and the Veterinary Emergency Center is offering them at a discount.

Additionally, McMahon says dog owners should keep their dogs on leashes. Here's the Health Department on rabies, with a map of animal rabies on Staten Island (PDF).

Raccoon in garbage can puppet from Wonder Brains