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Rick Steelhammer: The scoop on zombie raccoons and a tribute to a grumpy cat

With West Virginia ranked at or near the top in national rankings for negative health and safety occurrences like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and car-deer collisions, one would think there would be enough to worry about without adding zombie raccoons to the mix.

But in recent days, numerous news accounts about “outbreaks” of the strange-acting, colorfully nicknamed mammal have aired or appeared in print.

“’Zombie raccoon’ sightings: They stagger, show their teeth, and may have glowing eyes” a USA Today headline cautioned on Wednesday in a report about sightings in the Chicago suburbs and in Dublin, Ohio.

“Officials warn of ‘zombie raccoons’ after reported sightings,” a headline on a posting on WOWK’s website declared on Thursday.

By reading beyond the headlines or the first couple of paragraphs of these and other “zombie raccoon” stories that appeared last week, it was stated that the staggering, teeth-baring, eye-glowing, and sometimes aggressive behavior displayed by the animals was caused by nothing more exotic than distemper.

While humans do not contract distemper from any known source, their dogs are vulnerable to catching the viral disease from raccoons by coming in contact with their body fluids or inhaling particles of their feces. The disease can produce the same abnormal, life-threatening neurological reactions in dogs, which are routinely inoculated by their owners to guard against contracting the often deadly malady.

But, hey, I understand. Zombie raccoons is a lot more exotic and scary-sounding than raccoons with distemper.

Last November, several distemper-addled raccoons that met the apparent behavioral criteria needed to be labeled “zombies” were falsely accused of being drunk by police in the Cabell County town of Milton. Actually, the Milton officers initially feared the animals may have been rabid, but changed that diagnosis to intoxicated after a partially eaten horde of naturally fermented crabapples was found near one of the staggering raccoons.

Veterinary tests later showed that distemper — not intoxication, rabies or contact with the living dead — was responsible for the raccoons’ bizarre behavior.

So, if reports on the presence of “zombie raccoons” begin to spread in your neighborhood, be the first on your block to wake up and smell the coffee.

But, just to be safe, pray there are no raccoon poop particles in the air when you do so.


I was saddened to learn on Friday that the world-famous internet meme Grumpy Cat had died at the age of seven. I can just imagine her first post from the Great Beyond:

Made it to heaven today.


Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Funerals for Thursday, December 5, 3019

Bays, Bertha - 1 p.m., Montgomery Memorial Park, London.

Brammer, Larry - 1 p.m., Greene-Robertson Funeral Home, Sutton.

Crouch, Patty - 1 p.m., The First Freewill Baptist Church of Chesapeake.

Ferguson, Alice - 6 p.m., First Baptist Church of Kenova.

Harris, Curtis - 11 a.m., St. Matthew Catholic Church, Ravenswood.

Holcomb, Robert - 2 p.m., Mt. Gilead Cemetery, Pool.

Jarrell, Alma - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Lanham, Edward - 6 p.m., American Legion, St. Albans.

O'Dell, Shelvia - 11 a.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

Russell, Edra - 1 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Stewart II, Randall - 1 p.m., White Funeral Home, Summersville.