I come from a family of story tellers, and there are many stories we enjoy in the retelling. One of our favorites involves my brother Rich and his buddy Bill, then in their early twenties, driving out Route 9 and, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the road, coming across a foaming-at-the-mouth raccoon lurching around. Fortunately, Rich and Bill were in a car at the time – I wouldn’t have put it past them (especially Bill) to have wrestled with the beast – so they just drove to the local police station to report their sighting. (This is not our absolute favorite Rich and Bill story. That would be the time when, as students, they ran a Christmas tree lot out near UMass. That was until a mighty wind blew up and scattered their merchandise all over Western Mass.)
But their rabid raccoon tale is zip, zilch, nada when compared to that of Maine’s Rachel Borch.
Ms. Borch, who is 21 and, as far as I can tell from a google through Facebook, a student at Eckerd College in Florida, was out jogging the other day in the woods near her home in Hope, Maine. When what to her wondering eyes did appear – directly in her path – but a raccoon. A not mouth foaming, but definitely aggressive, raccoon which bared its teeth and came charging straight at her. The charging tipped Borch off. This wasn’t just any old raccoon. It was a rabid raccoon.
Recognizing that this was all out war – woman vs. beast - Ms. Borch tore off her headphones and tossed her phone down.
What felt like a split second later, the furry animal was at her feet. Borch said she was “dancing around it,” trying to figure out what to do.
“Imagine the Tasmanian devil,” she said. “It was terrifying.”
The path was too narrow for Borch to run past the raccoon, which had begun lunging at her. With adrenaline pumping, Borch suspended her disbelief.
“I knew it was going to bite me,” she said. (Source: Bangor Daily News)
Ms. Borch had the presence of mind to realize that her best self-defense bet was to try to hold the animal down, and that, if she was going to get bitten, her hand was the optimal place.
So, here was Rachel Borch, screaming and struggling with a raccoon that just did not want to let go of her thumb. She then “noticed that when she had dropped her phone, it had fallen into a puddle in the path and was fully submerged.”
This was Ms. Borch’s Eureka moment. Realizing that she wasn’t going to be able to strangle Rocky R with her bare hands, she thought that maybe she could drown it. So she managed to drag the raccoon, its jaws firmly clamped on her thumb while it used its paws to scratch her arms and hand, over to the puddle.
Borch said she held it there for what felt like an eternity until finally it stopped struggling and “its arms sort of of fell to the side, its chest still heaving really slowly.”
She then bolted for home.
Borch remembers looking back once to see if the raccoon had started chasing her again.
“It felt like [Stephen King’s] ‘Pet Sematary,’” she said.
Now that’s a true Mainer. She’s just fended off a rabid raccoon attack and she’s alluding to Maine’s own Stephen King.
She raced the three-quarters of a mile home. Her mind was racing, too:
Borch, who was screaming and unsure of how rabies affects humans, remembers thinking, “Oh, God, what if I just start foaming at the mouth and can’t find my way back?”
She got home safely and her mother drove her to the ER.
Her father, no slouch himself when it comes to presence of mind and cool under pressure, went into the woods to get the dead raccoon, which he:
…packed it into a Taste of the Wild dog food bag and handed it over to the Maine Warden Service.
Talk about Taste of the Wild.
Anyway, the raccoon tested positive for rabies.
You survive rabies if you’re treated. You don’t if you aren’t.
Borch has received six shots so far, including the rabies vaccine, and immunoglobulin and tetanus injections. She is slated to receive her last injection this weekend.
These shots are quite painful, I understand. I once had a colleague who was bitten by a feral cat. It was unknown whether the cat was rabid, but to be on the safe side, Jerry had to go endure the shot series.
“If there hadn’t been water on the ground, I don’t know what I would have done,” Borch said of drowning the animal. “It really was just dumb luck. I’ve never killed an animal with my bare hands. I’m a vegetarian. It was self-defense.”
Rachel Borch may call it dumb luck. I call it pluck. Presence of mind. The ability to think fast, cool and smart under horrific pressure. All I can say is that, in time of crisis, I wouldn’t mind having Rachel Borch by my side. Plus she’s going to have a hell of a story for her friends and family.
Rachel Borch, I salute you!
The Boston Globe was my original source for this post, but I drew on a more complete article rom the Bangor Daily News.