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"I should have strangled him": Thief River Falls woman rescues nearly blind dog from rabid skunk

Russell and Regina Goodhall of rural Thief River Falls, Minn., with their pet Pekingese Cassandra that was attacked by a rabid skunk. Regina rescued Cassandra from the skunk and Russell killed it with a shovel. John Stennes/ Grand Forks Herald

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. - Russell and Regina Goodhall were enjoying a quiet Saturday morning Feb. 11 at their home near Thief River Falls -- he was talking on the phone, and she was on the computer -- when Regina heard a loud yipping sound coming from outside.

"I went to the back porch door, and there was something black hanging off the neck of one of my dogs," Regina said.

The dog was Cassandra, a 12-year-old Pekingese who is nearly blind.

The something black was a skunk, and it had Cassie in its jaws.

Regina's instincts took over.

"I immediately ran out and grabbed the skunk by the scruff of the neck, and he wouldn't let go" of Cassie, Regina said.

She then tried to pry open the skunk's jaws, but that didn't work, either.

"He wouldn't let go, so I kind of whacked him on the head," Regina said. "It startled him, and he let go."

Regina still had a dilemma on her hands, and a potentially stinky one, at that:

What to do with the skunk she had by the scruff of the neck?

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Regina says their home is a retirement community, of sorts, for Pekingese, and she and her husband have seven of the small dogs. They also have a large dog yard surrounded by mesh fence for the pets to roam while outdoors.

She decided to carry the skunk to the fence and drop it on the other side.

Figuring that was the end of the encounter, Regina checked Cassie, who was traumatized but otherwise unhurt by the attack.

"She never was bitten because she has a very thick fur coat," Regina said.

Regina returned indoors and secured the "doggy door" that provides access from the porch to the dog yard. Good thing, too, because the skunk soon was back through the fence and scratching at the doggy door trying to get into the house.

"If we didn't have a clue before then, that was a clue something wasn't right" with the skunk, Regina said.

She and her husband decided to trap the skunk with a crate, but the animal left the back porch and was wandering around the dog yard before they got the chance.

Russell went outside to open the fence gate, and the skunk chased him to the back door.

"The skunk caught his head in the screen door as my husband was closing it," Regina said.

When the skunk left the porch and wandered toward a patch of woods in the backyard, Russell followed.

The skunk charged again.

"(Russell) waved his hands and hollered and it didn't make any difference," Regina said. He then killed the skunk with a shovel he grabbed in self-defense.

Tests positive for rabies

Regina said she called authorities, who didn't respond to the incident, and also contacted the Minnesota Department of Health. They advised bringing the head of the skunk to Valley Animal Hospital in Thief River Falls. The head was sent to the Department of Health on Feb. 13, and last Thursday, the results came back as positive for rabies.

The viral disease attacks the central nervous system.

Cassie received a booster shot for rabies, and the Health Department recommended Regina undergo a series of shots, even though she wasn't bitten.

"The shots aren't anything like they used to be," she said. "It's only a series of four shots and a couple of others you have to get the first time. It's not that horrendous."

Dr. Bruce Pierce, veterinarian at Valley Animal Hospital, said it's not unusual for skunks to go in and out of hibernation in the winter. Pierce said skunks can incubate rabies for up to two years, and he treats two to four cases of exposure every year.

Looking back on the incident, Regina said protecting the dogs and rescuing Cassie was the only thing on her mind. She also managed to avoid getting sprayed, although it was "was kind of aromatic" by the house for a few days.

"I've had to break up dog fights in the past so I knew that by grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, there was no way he was going to get a hold of me," she said. "I thought afterward I should have strangled him when I had the little buzzard in my hand."

But doing that, she said, would have increased her chances of being bitten.

"We've been in this place for 10 years, and that is only the second skunk we have ever even seen, but it was really bizarre," Regina said.

As for Cassie, the old dog is under a 40-day quarantine but otherwise is doing fine and getting back to normal.

"I'm so thankful it worked out the way it did because if it had been any of the other dogs, they would have barked, they would have fought, and we would have had a real mess on our hands," Regina said.

The moral of the story, she said, is pet owners should make sure their animals' vaccinations are current.

"I have seven dogs here and any one of them could now be dead because you don't plan an encounter like that," she said. "You really don't know what they might encounter out of the blue."

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