When patrons dining outdoors Thursday afternoon at a St. Mary's County restaurant saw a skunk heading their way, they did the smart thing and went inside.
One problem -- so did the skunk.
Unfortunately, the skunk bit a patron before restaurant staff could put a box over it, which then caused it to spray. Animal control officers eventually removed it from the premise.
Tests later showed that the skunk was rabid.
Ann Rose, an environmental health specialist at the St. Mary's County Health Department, said officials had a feeling something wasn't right with the skunk since the incident happened in the afternoon and the skunk was so bold.
"Skunks are generally nocturnal, so seeing them in that setting, at a business, that's probably not usual," Rose said.
She said the skunk tale reminded her of an incident in Arizona several years ago where a bobcat walked into a bar. There were no punchlines, however, as the bobcat attacked two men inside. It was eventually shot and killed by authorities in the parking lot.
"Within St. Mary's County, I don't know if we've had a wild animal come into a business," Rose said, adding that most incidents involve homeowners who hear their pets make a noise outside, open the door and wind up with a rabid animal inside.
The skunk involved in Thursday's restaurant incident was the sixth animal from the county confirmed through lab tests to have rabies. The other animals were two skunks and three racoons.
Rabies is a potentially fatal virus that is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. Exposure may occur through a bite, scratch or contact with saliva to broken skin or mucous membranes such as the eyes or nose. Health officials say all animal bites or exposures should be reported promptly to allow for appropriate rabies prevention measures.
The St. Mary’s County Health Department also urges residents to make sure their pets are up to date on rabies vaccines and avoid contact with wild animals that display unusual or aggressive behavior.