Relaxing in a large tree in Central Park, a raccoon was unaware of the two park rangers waiting below.
When the critter made its way down to the grassy field, the rangers swooped in, capturing it, placing it in a pet carrier and then celebrating with a fist bump.
The raccoon was suspected of taking a bite out of Tracy Wargo's left ankle as she walked her dogs under the same tree a five hours earlier, at 7 a.m. Thursday, a time when dogs do not have to be leashed.
Wargo's beagles, Butters and Pixle, saw the racoon and pounced. Wargo says that's when her instincts kicked in. She tried to pull her pets away, but the raccoon latched on to her ankle, leaving two deep bite marks and sending her to an emergency room for precautionary rabies shots.
"I was so focused on making sure my dogs were OK because it really was a vicious, they’re vicious animals, and I used to think they’re super cute but they’re pretty, pretty mean," Wargo said.
It was the 85th raccoon captured or found dead in the park this season, an unusually high number that officials blame on an outbreak of canine distemper virus, which can cause raccoons to act strange or aggressive.
Raccoons are surprisingly common in the park, drawing the interest of many parkgoers.
Local veterinarians say they are concerned for people and their pets who visit the park and are unaware of the outbreak of disease in the raccoon population. They urged city and state officials to step up communication.
"This was bound to happen without the proper signage in the park and without the public being aware that there is a problem, and they should not be touching or trying to interact with these raccoons," said Dr. Babette Gladstein, a veterinarian.
After Wargo was bitten, at least the second time a parkgoer was bitten this week, the city issued an advisory saying that because of the distemper outbreak, people visiting the park should keep their pets on a leash at all times and vaccinated. The advisory goes on to say the illness cannot be transmitted to humans.
It was not immediately known if the raccoon captured Thursday has the disease, but officials said it would be euthanized so it can be tested.