Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Rabid fox attacks pool swimmers

Published in the Current and the American Journal

A 27-year-old Gorham woman and her 4-year-old son are receiving treatment for exposure to rabies after a rabid fox jumped into a pool with them in Scarborough Aug. 14.

“The night before, around 10 o’clock, we had heard this weird barking sound, a kind of growly bark,” said Janice Reed, who lives on Lane by the Sea, near the Old Orchard Beach line.

It was Reed’s daughter and grandson who were attacked by the fox the next afternoon, as they were swimming in the pool at Reed’s home.

Also the night before, Reed’s husband had seen a fox run “very aggressively” up to the back door of the home. The next afternoon, Reed’s daughter and her daughter’s son were in the new above-ground pool. It was so new there isn’t even a deck around the outside of the pool basin, which stands 52 inches tall.

“She saw this face come up to the top of the rail,” Reed said. Initially she thought it might be one of the family’s cats. “The next instant, this thing was leaping” at her. Reed said she was told that the noise of the two playing together could have agitated the fox enough to attack.

When the fox came at her, Reed’s daughter initially dropped her son, but realizing he couldn’t swim, grabbed him and threw him out of he pool. Screaming, she then jumped out of the pool herself and started running toward the house with the boy.

Reed’s husband and a neighbor heard the screams and came running, to see the fox swimming in the pool. “It managed to climb out,” Reed said.

A police officer showed up on a bicycle and radioed for further assistance, while the fox sat near the edge of the yard, until Reed herself came home. The family’s dogs started barking, which scared the fox off.

An initial check seemed to show that neither mom nor boy had been scratched or bitten, but when the boy was changing out of his bathing suit, they realized he had been scratched on his back and the back of his leg.

When they called the Scarborough police to report that, they learned the fox had been killed by Old Orchard Beach police and would be tested for rabies. The next afternoon, they learned it had tested positive.

The evening after the attack, Reed and her husband took their daughter and grandson to the hospital, where the 4-year-old got the first in a series of rabies shots that are “extremely painful” and expensive – costing over $2,000 for a single shot, Reed said.

They also had to clean the pool out with bleach to kill the rabies, which is transmitted through saliva. “You have this thing foaming at the mouth, and it’s in the water,” Reed said.

She knows there are other foxes in the wooded, marshy area behind her home. She is worried that something more will happen: “Last night and the night before, we have heard the same barking sounds” as they heard the night before the last attack, Reed said Tuesday.

This is a very unusual incident, said Scarborough Animal Control Officer Chris Creps. This year has seen fewer rabid animals in town than last year, he said. Two raccoons, one in the Pleasant Hill area and the other in North Scarborough, have tested positive, in addition to the fox.