SPRING HILL — Joseph Stoddard and his 2-year-old boxer mix, Noah, went out to the woods after school Monday to gather some firewood.
It was just another day, he said. Until the 15-year-old saw the young raccoon hanging out of his dog's mouth
"I was like, 'Wow,' " Stoddard said. "I was stunned."
But then another emotion struck him: Fear.
He was worried that, somehow, the raccoon would injure his dog, maybe even kill it.
So Stoddard snatched the raccoon by the scruff of the neck and hind legs, pulling it away from his dog's toothy grip.
"I wasn't thinking. I just grabbed it," he said.
He held tight and started walking the 300 or so feet back to his home, raccoon in hand.
Squirming in his hands, the animal managed to turn its neck around and bite Stoddard's index finger. It scratched his arms and legs as he hauled it home.
That's when Stoddard's mom, Lisa Patrick, saw him. And the raccoon.
"I saw him bleeding and I saw the coon and I knew what that meant," said Patrick, who is a veterinary technician.
It meant rabies.
Patrick found a cat carrier in the house and she and her son shoved the raccoon in the cage as fast as they could, locking the door behind it.
"Is that blood yours?" Patrick asked. "Did he bite you?"
Her son went inside to scrub his hands while a Hernando County animal services officer showed up and took the raccoon away to be euthanized. It was later decapitated and tested for rabies.
On Wednesday, the tests came back positive. It was the county's first exposure in more than a year.
The last one came in June 2011 when a rabid fox attacked a woman, latching on until it was eventually killed by a neighbor.
Stoddard and his dog Noah, will be okay.
Noah had his proper rabies vaccinations and Stoddard is undergoing rabies treatments, which consist of a course of shots.
Patrick sees this as a cautionary tale.
"He didn't think. He just acted for the dog," she said. "He didn't think that the raccoon would do that. He just thought he could get him away."
While she understands why her son would want to save his dog, she explained to him how much danger he placed himself in.
Patrick said this also serves as an example for why dogs need to be vaccinated. Noah likely would have been euthanized if he hadn't had his shots.
"It's a five dollar to 10 dollar shot and it's worth it," she said.
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.