GALION — Raccoons that set up dens in at least two vacant houses in the 400 block of South Union Street are more than a nuisance.
According to Roger Petrella, who lives next door to one of the vacant houses, the raccoons are infected with a disease called leptospirosis.
“It is contagious and can be passed to humans and other animals. My dog, TJ, was infected with the disease and he died (last Friday). Horizon Animal Hospital did everything they could to try to save him,” Petrella said during the Galion City Council meeting Tuesday evening.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. In humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases. Some infected people, however, may have no symptoms at all. Without treatment, the disease can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress and even death.
Petrella said the disease is passed through the urine of an infected animal and in this case, one of the many raccoons that have made vacant houses in the area their homes.
Petrella said TJ stopped eating, but was drinking water excessively.
“He didn’t eat for 15 days,” Petrella said, the pain of loss showing on his face.
Petrella said the disease is rare for Ohio and is normally found in tropical locations.
“I am very concerned for the children who live in the area. Several times, kids have been seen playing in the yards of these homes and have been found inside the houses,” Petrella said.
Petrella’s neighbor, Fred Rinehart, is also concerned about the safety of children in the neighborhood.
“There is a potential risk to children,” he said.
He said he has noticed kids trying to break into one of the houses and wants the houses boarded up and secured.
“If a ball rolls over an area where there is urine and the kids continue to play with the ball, they could be at risk,” Petrella said.
Jerry Myers, who also resides in the Union Street area, said he contacted the Ohio Division of Game and Wildlife.
“They said to contact our health department, which we did, and were told we would have to eradicate the ‘coons ourselves. How do we do that when they could be diseased and we are not allowed to use a firearm in the city. What do we do with them once they are caught in a cage,” said Myers.
Matt Echelberry, the city’s communications director, said several pest removal companies were contacted first thing Wednesday morning.
“We hired a man named Ronald Beach who is in charge of the eradication process,” Echelberry said.
Petrella said at least one of the raccoons has been eradicated since the process began late this week.
Echelberry said the vacant houses are on the list to be demolished.
Petrella is currently undergoing testing for leptospirosis.
“My testing has to be done through the CDC and the results are not back yet,” said Petrella.
Mayor Tom O’Leary said he feels a great sense of loss over the death of Petrella’s dog.
“While the disease is not communicable according to the health department, this is a real issue, and a real shame that he had to lose his dog,” O’Leary said during the council meeting.
Petrella picked up the ashes of his beloved TJ on Thursday.
“I had TJ for 11 years. Many people knew him because I walked him around town all the time. It has been really hard,” Petrella said. “I miss him very much.”