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Maddock woman arrested in raccoon incident; animal euthanized for rabies testing

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A Maddock resident who allegedly brought a wild raccoon into a local bar and prompted a state warning about potential rabies exposure has been arrested, and the raccoon euthanized for disease testing.

Erin Christensen, 38, was booked into the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center in Devils Lake on Wednesday evening and released three hours later on $1,500 bond, jail records show. She did not immediately respond to a Tribune request for comment Thursday.

She was arrested on charges of giving false information to law enforcement and tampering with evidence, and for a state Game and Fish Department violation of unlawfully possessing a furbearer. Formal charges were not immediately filed Thursday. The arresting charges are misdemeanors that together would carry a maximum punishment of a couple of years in jail and fines totaling $7,500.

Christensen was arrested at about 4 p.m. Wednesday after officials with the Benson County Sheriff's Office and Game and Fish executed search warrants at three residences in and near Maddock, one of which was her residence. Maddock is a town of about 500 people in Benson County, about halfway between Carrington and Rugby.

"We got information that they (woman and raccoon) could have been at three possible locations, so we got search warrants for all three," Sheriff Ethan Rode said.

Authorities don't know where or when Christensen found the raccoon that she allegedly was keeping as a pet.

"We know she found it out in the wild. It was half dead, and she apparently nursed it back to health," Rode said.

Authorities aren't sure how long Christensen allegedly had the raccoon, but it might have been as long as a couple of months, according to Game and Fish Enforcement Division Chief Scott Winkelman.

"It's illegal to possess a live raccoon under Board of Animal Health laws," he said, adding that it's also illegal to have one without a state furbearer license. Winkelman also said it appeared that Christensen was trying to evade authorities who were searching for her and the raccoon.

He and the sheriff said they are not aware of Christensen having any sort of an animal handling or training background.

"As far as I know it was just a compassion thing," Rode said.

Authorities allege Christensen brought the raccoon into the Maddock Bar on Sept. 6. Bartender Cindy Smith has told the Tribune that the raccoon was never loose and didn't bite anyone, and authorities don't believe it came in close contact with any bar patrons. But the incident prompted the state Health and Human Services Department on Tuesday to issue a warning about potential rabies exposure in connection with the raccoon. Rabies is almost always fatal, according to the agency.

The raccoon has been put down and turned over to the state veterinarian to be tested for rabies and other diseases, Rode said. Winkelman said there's no way to estimate the percentage of raccoons in the wild that have rabies.

"I wouldn't say it's common, but it definitely is present in wild furbearers," he said.

Reach News Editor Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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