Metro-East News

Six raccoons shot, killed by Belleville police officers in recent weeks

Police say they have shot and killed six raccoons since Sept. 1 in Belleville in order to protect the public from the animals that were showing signs of distemper.

Two such animals were shot on Wednesday evening, said Capt. Mark Heffernan of the Belleville Police Department. One was near North 13th and West E streets, and the other in the 1100 block of North Church Street.

Different officers were dispatched to each location.

Police occasionally euthanize wild animals, such as deer that are struck by vehicles and are alive and “clearly suffering,” Heffernan said. He said that there has been an uptick in instances in recent weeks with diseased raccoons, though.

Heffernan said the occurrences of distemper in raccoons has been relatively recent in the area. Raccoons with the disease were spotted in St. Louis this time last year, and have been seen in the Chicago area since at least April. Diseased raccoons may appear disoriented or lethargic, and may have trouble walking.

“Distemper is a fatal disease for raccoons and they can suffer greatly from it. So in most instances they are euthanized,” he said.

Belleville police secured the area before euthanizing the animals and made reports after each instance, Heffernan said.

Animal control officers typically deal only with domesticated animals, Heffernan said, leaving wild animals to the police who often work with animal rescue groups.

Dogs can catch distemper if they com into contact with a raccoon and have not been properly vaccinated.

Belleville police issued an advisory because the animals can be aggressive with pets, Heffernan said.

“They are wild animals.”

An Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman could not say how many animals with distemper have been euthanized. Police might report the deaths to the department of Public Health and veterinarians might report to the Department of Agriculture, said Tim Schweizer.

He said a healthy raccoon is “in the wild, more than likely sitting around and watching things. If you see one that looks like it’s sick, more than likely it’s sick.”

Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535; @MaryCooleyBND