From the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
-- As development encroaches more and more into areas once solely animals' habitats, it is likely that humans encounter more wild animals crossing "our" property, tempting us to intercede in the animals' natural life cycles. The best advice is to refrain from the urge to adopt or make contact with these animals.
People need to be aware of the risks from caring for a wild animal whether carried home out of concern for the animal, a desire to have an unusual pet or for other reasons.
There are some common situations. For example, a baby animal poses health risks from rabies. A mother might have passed the disease on to her babies through her milk and symptoms might not show for weeks.
An abandoned baby animal may only appear to be so. There is no day care for baby animals and the mother might be out hunting, returning home to find her babies kidnapped. Chances are the baby animal was abandoned by the death of its mother from disease, rather than predators.
Veterinarians agree the baby, if still dependent, would suffer less from abandonment than if fed and watered long enough to develop rabies. Death from rabies is far slower with excruciating seizures and, ultimately, a violently painful death if not put down humanely.
There are also a number of myths about wildlife adoptions. What the animal adopter chooses to do is their own business and only affects them.
This is not true. In many cases over the past several years, massive disease investigations had to be undertaken at taxpayer expense to investigate and the potential exposures to rabies (which is only one of many diseases that can be transmitted from animals to mankind) in order to prevent its spread.
In every one of those cases, dozens to hundreds of contacts must be traced and tracked and evaluated for risk of exposure to rabies in time to provide preventive measures because once man or animal shows symptoms, the disease has been contracted and it is too late to treat.
Another misunderstood belief concerns rabies vaccine. Domestic dogs, cats and ferrets can get a vaccine to protect against rabies. A mammal is exposed to rabies if an infected animal's saliva reaches the bloodstream or mucous membranes. One contracts the disease when the virus reaches the brain. Rabies is 100 percent fatal once contracted, so it is imperative for humans who have been exposed to undergo a series of treatments in order to prevent rabies from reaching the brain and contracting the disease. Once there are symptoms, it is too late. Death inevitably follows.
The last myth is perhaps the most important one.
Many believe that one can tell visually whether or not an animal has rabies, thinking that if an animal is not foaming at the mouth it must not have rabies. However, while foaming might occur in the latter stages of the disease, most rabid animals do not usually show that sign.
A lack of fear of humans is one of the classic warning signs of rabies, so a better warning signal is to avoid wild animals acting tame or usually tame animals acting wild, such as a normally friendly domestic animal growling or barking.
Find out more about rabies and prevention from DHEC at www.scdhec.net/health/envhlth/general_sanitation/rabies.htm.
Wildlife experts and veterinarians agree that wildlife do not make good pets. These animals can be dangerous and will be unhappy in captivity, even under the best of circumstances. Young animals often change from sweet and cuddly to very aggressive, even if they are not diseased. People who find they can no longer care for their exotic "pets" encounter great difficulty in placing even healthy animals in a new home.