HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The 75-year-old woman who killed a rabid raccoon that attacked her at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden said she did what she had to do. Cass Overton, a garden volunteer, credited her tai chi training and meditation for keeping her calm and focused when the rabid animal grabbed her leg.
"I was looking up at birds, because I am a birder and when I looked down, this animal was coming at me already," Overton recounted days after Saturday's attack. "I started to walk backward and it lunged at my leg."
Overton said the rabid raccoon grabbed her pant leg and started to scrape her knee. She tried to back away, but realized that was not going to work. That is when, she said, her own animal instinct took over.
"I got it by the neck with both hands," she said. "I realized it was so violent, that I couldn't throw it off and then expect that it would not be right after me. So, I knew what I had to do. I had to choke it."
She grabbed the animal by its neck, threw it to the ground and put her knee on its neck until the raccoon stopped breathing.
"It took about five minutes, before the deed was done," Overton said. "It looked so much like my last dog, that upset me. But I guess something primitive just kicked in and there was nothing I could do but simply take it out."
Overton was able to get help from garden staff and applauded the efforts of the Lakeside Volunteer Rescue Squad and Henrico Animal Control for their quick response. Later, at St. Mary's Hospital, the reality of what happened to her set in and she said she started to cry.
"I knew what I was doing," the professed animal lover said. "It wasn't that I went into some altered state of consciousness. I was very focused. Not shaken, until after it was over."
Overton is in the midst of a series of rabies shots. She cautioned others to be alert and aware of their surroundings.
A message Lewis Ginter staff echoed after the raccoon incident.
"Our visitors safety is our first priority," garden spokeswoman Beth Monroe said. She added the footpath where Overton killed the raccoon was closed until garden staff deemed it safe to reopen.
"We’re just encouraging people to stay on the main pathways to not feed any wildlife," Monroe said. "And that’s a really key thing. That was not the case in this particular instance. But it is never a good idea to feed wildlife."
Anyone who came in contact with the raccoon, or any rabid animal, was asked to call the Henrico Health Department at 804-501-4529 or the Henrico County Animal Control Office at 804-501-5000.
The Henrico Health District strongly advises that people take the following steps to prevent families and pets from being exposed to rabies:
- Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies and keep them up to date!
- Avoid contact with wild animals or stray cats and dogs.
- Do not feed wild animals or stray cats and dogs.
- Report stray animals to your local animal control agency.
- Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home.
- Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.
- If you see ill or injured wildlife, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice on how to proceed.