Tuesday May 8, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Two city residents are being treated for rabies following a string of fox attacks near upper Williams Street over the weekend.

The last victim was bitten numerous times early Saturday on Harryel Street during her morning walk. The 84-year-old said she didn't even see the animal coming.

"All of a sudden I felt a rip above my ankle," said the woman, who lives on Meleca Avenue. She asked not to be identified. "I thought it might be a dog, but then I looked back and saw what it was. I thought maybe I could just shake it off, but I guess that wasn't the way it was meant to be."

The fox, dark gray and the size of a smaller dog, persisted until its victim found her way to a stranger's door. The occupant let the bloodied woman in and called emergency responders.

The woman nearly lost her finger to a severe bite and suffered from cuts and bruising on her leg. In addition to the regimen of rabies shots she is undergoing, the injury to her finger is being treated by a plastic surgeon, she said.

Later on Saturday, city police were able to locate and shoot the fox. Its carcass has been sent to a state lab in Jamaica Plain for testing, which will confirm whether the animal was rabid.

The same fox is a suspect in two prior attacks Friday, said city animal control officer Joe Chague.

Around 11 on Friday morning, a fox on Pine Grove Drive attacked a dog. The dog's owner managed to break up the fight without getting bitten himself, Chague said.


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Later, at 10:30 that night, a 14-year-old girl was bitten on the ankle. The girl, who was with a group of friends at the time, told police the fox quickly relented and scrambled away.

"I'm sure the yelling and screaming helped a lot," Chague said.

Chague is "somewhat confident" that the same fox was involved in all three incidents. But he cautioned that most foxes look pretty much the same, and that the animals tend to live in pairs and with their young, meaning there could well be other rabid or otherwise diseased foxes slinking around the neighborhood.

"I don't want to panic anybody," Chague said. He said most foxes are fine, and unless they exhibit aggressive behavior, there's no cause for alarm. "Foxes live with us," he said. "That's part of nature, part of life in the Berkshires."

Timothy Flanagan, a professor of environmental and life sciences at Berk shire Community Col lege, concurred.

"Almost always there's an explanation for behavior like that," he said. "For every one incident that someone encounters, there's a thousand normal foxes wandering around and they're not to be feared."

Fox attacks are not unheard of in the area, with one to two reported every several years. Still, the encounters have startled neighbors in the upper Williams Street area.

Patricia Guthrie, who co-founded the Mountain Drive and Richard Drive crime watch, sent out a notice to neighbors after several fox encounters late last month, in cluding one in which a fox stalked a cat and another where a neighbor walking a dog was followed home by a fox.

"We have quite a few neighbors with small children in this vicinity, we just wanted to alert them," she said.

Flanagan said identifying a dangerous fox is fairly straight forward: a healthy fox will typically "scoot away if it sees you coming." Likewise, a fox "that seems less wary than normal should be avoided because it may have a disease," he said.



Fox safety tips

  • Secure your garbage: Foxes will raid open trash materials and compost piles. Take out trash the morning pickup is scheduled, not the previous night. Keep compost piles in containers designed to contain but vent the material.
  • Keep your pets safe: Foxes can view cats as potential food. For the safety of your pets, keep them restrained at all times.
  • Feed pets indoors: Outdoor feeding attracts many wild animals to your door!
  • Keep bird feeder areas clean: Use feeders designed to keep seed off the ground to avoid attracting small mammals foxes prey upon. Remove feeders if foxes are regularly seen around your yard.
  • Don't be intimidated: Don't hesitate to scare or threaten foxes with loud noises, bright lights or water.
  • Educate your neighbors: Pass this information along since your efforts will be futile if neighbors are providing food or
    shelter for foxes.

Source: Mass. Dept. of Fish and Game