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While it is unlikely, it is possible to have unpleasant run-ins with our wild neighbors. There are two main concerns. The first is rabies, a deadly viral brain disease that affects mammals. Without treatment, it is deadly in 100 percent of cases. The second is a rare animal attack. While encounters with aggressive animals are unlikely, they do happen.

Several tips, listed below, can help limit these negative interactions and keep us, our families, and the wild animals in our neighborhoods healthy and safe.

First, limit food sources that might attract wildlife. Secure trash cans and dumpsters. Do not hang bird feeders until after a stretch of significantly cold weather. Bring them in again during warm spells. Every human-associated food source a wild animal finds draws bears, raccoons and other animals closer to areas inhabited by humans and increases the likelihood that we will bump into them unexpectedly.

Light your yard and make some noise a minute or two before you go outside after dark, especially with pets. This gives wildlife a little warning and time to leave the area.

Appreciate wildlife from a safe distance and avoid contact. Do not touch or pick up wild or stray animals, even baby animals, or try to make them into pets. You cannot tell if an animal has rabies by looking at it.

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Report animals that are acting aggressively or seem sick. Call the Vermont Rabies Hotline (1-800-4-RABIES) or similar number for the state you live in.

Vaccinate your pets against rabies. Feed them indoors, keep them indoors at night, and keep them leashed or in a fenced area during the day. Free-range animals have the greatest risk of exposure to rabies.

If you are bitten by an animal, wash the wound very well with soap and water and immediately contact your health care provider or go to the nearest Emergency Department.

If a pet or farm animal is bitten by a wild animal, contact your veterinarian.

When we all follow these pieces of advice, we increase our odds of coexisting peacefully with the animals around us and our chances of enjoying the wonder they bring to our lives.

Dr. Adam Cohen leads emergency medicine at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington.


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