SHEFFIELD — The worst rabies epidemic in two decades has Sheffield residents worried for their children and pets alike.
"I haven't seen it this bad since 1992," said Animal Control Officer Martin Clark.
Clark said the town has seen rabid foxes, skunks and even a woodchuck over the last few weeks. He said the heat might be the culprit, but added that there was no way to be sure.
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the brain of mammals. It is transmitted through saliva, usually by bites, and is recognizable by the dehydration and aggression of the infected animal. Rabies kills up to 60,000 people a year.
Sheffield resident Sarah Siket got a front row seat to the disease last week.
On the morning of Aug. 1, Siket heard a commotion in her chicken coop. What she believed was a hawk or other bird of prey turned out to be an erratic acting skunk. Siket thought it was lost or confused, but soon figured out something else was going on.
"It ran up on my deck after me," she recalled. "Then ran by and circled around. It kept squeaking at me."
The squeaking is because of the overheating in the animal's brain, Clark explained. He answered Siket's call and made his way over to Sheffield from his home in Sandisfield. Clark told Siket to keep an eye on the animal in the meantime.
This was not a problem for Siket, who had already climbed into her car and begun to hunt the animal across her yard and down the street. She tracked the animal until Clark arrived.
Siket said she plans to put out a Have-A-Heart trap for the other skunks in the area.
"Rabies takes three weeks to show up," she said. "Others might be infected and it might not have appeared yet."
Clark said the disease has shown up in the last two weeks and agreed that there might be more cases over the rest of the summer. He cautioned the public to take care, especially those with children and pets.
Anyone in Sheffield who sees a rabid animal is asked to call Clark at 413-269-6113. TTY relay service is available at 800-439-2370.
As for Sitek, she hopes the problem is dealt with sooner rather than later.
"Every time we go out no, I'm listening for the squeals," she said. "We've lived here for ten years and this is the first time I remember something like this happening."
"I hope it ends soon."