HINGHAM — Ginny Ballou woke up Wednesday morning in a panic: She felt sharp teeth sink into her lips and chin and a furry animal crouched on her head, but she could not see it. The 73-year-old jammed her thumbs inside the creature’s mouth to try to pry its jaws open, but its teeth just shredded her skin.
“Really and truly, I couldn’t do it,” Ballou said Thursday afternoon, seated on her couch in her living room, 10 angry black stitches tracking a 1½-inch long gash from her bottom lip to the middle of her chin. “I’m not too sure to this day how I did get the thing off of me.
“When I threw it on the floor like this,” she said, lifting her gauze-wrapped hands to her face and thrusting them downward, “that’s when I realized it was a raccoon.”
Bleeding profusely, Ballou grabbed the landline telephone on her nightstand and hit the raccoon, which ran out of the room. She slammed the door shut and dialed 911.
When police and firefighters showed up, said Hingham police Sergeant Steven Dearth, they could see raccoon paw prints in the snow leading up to the cat flap that Ballou’s rescue cat Pretty Boy uses to go outside.
Ballou would not leave her bedroom because she did not know where the raccoon was, she said, so officers got in with her spare key. They found the raccoon in Pretty Boy’s litter box in Ballou’s bathroom, where Dearth said they were able to corner it and slip a snare around its neck.
The animal was euthanized, and its brain tested positive for the rabies virus, said Dr. Catherine Brown, veterinarian for the Department of Public Health.
“Not really a surprise to anyone,” Brown said. “Raccoons, skunks, foxes — when they start acting very aggressive toward a human being, the first thing we would always think about is the possibility that the animal is rabid.”
Last year, said Brown, 34 raccoons across the state tested positive for rabies.
That number is down considerably from about 20 years ago, she said, when raccoon rabies arrived for the first time in Massachusetts and tore through the raccoon population.
Between 1992 and 2002, she said, 2,136 raccoons across the state tested positive for rabies. Now, the numbers year to year stay pretty low, not that it provides any comfort to anyone unlucky enough to encounter a rabid animal, said Brown.
On Thursday, Ballou, who got the first of a series of rabies shots at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth on Wednesday, was still trying to figure out what she could eat with her swollen, cut lip.
Her daughter, Jennifer Bowles, had come over to help clean the blood stains out of her carpets, but was having no luck and was still finding bloody raccoon footprints here and there.
Pretty Boy sat licking himself on an armchair. “Pretty casual,” Ballou remarked wryly.
When she awoke with the raccoon on her face, Ballou said, she first thought it was her cat gone crazy. Once she got the raccoon out of her bedroom, she was relieved to see her pet sitting in the bay window.
“The raccoon would have killed him,” she said.
Ballou said she will probably board up the cat door. Her face hurts when she laughs, she said, but her sense of humor appeared intact despite the attack. When she said she was planning to skip her usual games of Mahjong at the senior center until her face healed, a friend who had come by teased her that her wounds might persuade the other players to let her win.
She smiled and winced.
“Oh, no, there’s no letting you win in Mahjong,” Ballou said.