MONTEBELLO — Craig Parsons loves to hike and run trails — any season, anytime.

So when the mid-January warm spell arrived, the 61-year-old was ready to go. Kakiat, just down Route 202 from his Wesley Hills home, is a favorite. An added bonus: His wife, Rhonda, was celebrating her birthday weekend and the Parsons' two college kids — Jesse, 21 and Sarah, 19 — were home on break from SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Oswego, respectively.

But the family's quick birthday hike at Kakiat Jan. 12 turned into an ordeal for Craig, and a lesson on rabies preparedness for other nature lovers.

The temperature topped 65 degrees as the family was heading down the blue trail. Then, about 200 yards before the trail's end, Craig Parsons saw the raccoon. He knew something wasn't right. "I figured it would just bolt into the woods," he said.

Instead, it charged.

He told his family to run. The kids had already taken off. Rhonda Parsons, 58, lagged. She readily admits she's a slow runner.

Then, she heard her husband call out: "It got me!"

The raccoon had climbed or jumped up Craig's leg and was biting him on the shin through his jeans. While Craig Parsons said the attack was 10-15 seconds, Rhonda Parsons remembers it as being much longer.

Craig Parsons said he knew it was not a good situation.

"For about the first 10 minutes, it was very painful," he said. "It felt like a knot in my leg."

The Parsons headed to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern. Rabies was foremost on his mind.

Quick treatment

At Good Sam's ER, Parsons said the bite site was cleaned out and he received a tetanus shot and a 10-day course of Amoxicillin.

Then came the rabies immune globulin. It was administered around the bony part of his right shin. That part hurt, Parsons said.

He also received the first course, or "Day 0" dose of rabies vaccination. Followup rabies vaccinations are given on Days 3, 7, and 14 from exposure. Parsons received those shots at Good Sam's ER too. Those shots are given in the deltoid muscle, alternating arms for each sequence.

Rabies cannot be detected unless testing is done on a dead animal. The virus is almost always fatal by the time symptoms are present, so prophylactic treatment is key, health officials say.

"It impossible to determine if an animal is infected with rabies based solely on clinical signs," New York state Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said. "Rabid animals may be friendly or aggressive, some may appear healthy."

The treatment didn't slow down Parsons. "I went running the next day," he said. "I am an avid outdoors person."

The raccoon run-in wasn't his first animal encounter. A — a couple of years ago, he was running on a trail in Samuel G. Fisher Environmental Park near the Rockland County Fire Training Center in Pomona. He saw a black bear about 35 feet from him. "It ran off as soon as it saw me," he said. "Thank God."

Parsons plans to keep hiking, running and enjoying the natural surroundings that Rockland offers. And he said understands that nature was here first.

But, Parsons said, he's made one big change: He won't go on trails alone. "You tend to get a little lost in your thoughts," he said. "You have to be aware."

Always present

Rabies is present throughout the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, save for Hawaii.

Rabies, which is transmitted through saliva, can infect any warm-blooded animal. Mandatory pet vaccinations have made the disease rare over the decades.

In New York, the disease is seen mainly in raccoons, red foxes, bats and skunks. In 2019, nearly 19% of the raccoons submitted to the New York state Department of Health Rabies Laboratory were positive for rabies, Hammond said.

The last human rabies fatality in New York was in 2011; a member of the military had contracted the disease from a dog bite in Afghanistan. In 1995, Maria Fareri, 13, died of rabies at Westchester Medical Center. Her family founded Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at the Valhalla medical center in her memory.

Liz Mello, Rockland County's senior public health engineer, said medical attention is the priority for a person who thinks they had contact with a rabid animal. Then they should make sure the local health department is notified.

The state Health Department,, lists every county health agency to contact in case of possible rabies exposure.

Rabies treatment is usually given because the stakes are so high.

In the Kakiat encounter, parks department employees searched for the raccoon, Mello said, but it was not found.

Patrice Robertson, Rockland County's rabies program coordinator, reminds people that raccoon and foxes are out in daytime looking for food. "It's not abnormal to see wildlife in the woods."

Animals should always be given their space, Robertson said.

Health officials say animal bite reports increase in spring and in summer. Even when precautions are taken, though, incidents like the Jan. 12 encounter in Kakiat can occur.

Parsons is proof.

"I love animals and I love nature," Parsons, 61, said. "But with nature and people living so close, people need to be aware."