July 30, 2013

Police kill fox that attacked five in South Portland

The 'aggressive' fox even jumped into a parked truck to bite a man. The animal's remains are being tested for rabies.

By Karen Antonacci kantonacci@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND —  A police officer shot and killed a possibly rabid fox after it attacked five people Tuesday near Clark's Pond and the Maine Mall.

In one of the attacks, the fox even jumped through the open window of a truck to bite a man who was parked outside The Home Depot store about 6 a.m.

It was finally captured and killed around 12:30 p.m. after chasing a man into a Western Avenue office building, where he and his wife have an acupuncture business.

"It's a first for me. It's a pretty bizarre day," South Portland police Lt. Todd Bernard said shortly after the fox was captured.

The fox was trapped after it charged from behind a Dumpster and chased Jason Stein into the office building. He was able to get out the door, holding the animal in the foyer until police arrived.

"I heard Jason running and I thought maybe a friend of his was playing a joke on him or something, but then he poked his head around and said, 'A fox chased me in,"' said Olan Boardman, the office manager for Rocky Coast Family Acupuncture.

Boardman said Stein received a shallow scratch on his hand and went to Maine Medical Center in Portland for treatment. Stein could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Kim Johnson, a principal owner at Kilbride & Harris Insurance on the second floor of the building, heard about the fox over the phone and called the other building tenants to let them know the fox was trapped. Then she exited the building via a stairwell and locked the front door of the office building so no one could enter the lobby.

"(The fox) was very aggressive, I can tell you that," Johnson said. "He got a hold of a plant in the lobby and was whipping it around and around, so it was clear that this wasn't a normal fox you would typically see on the golf course in the middle of the daytime. He was definitely vicious."

Office tenants called the city's animal control officer. He arrived and opened the front door enough to slip a noose around the fox's head. The noose was attached to a rigid pole -- a device usually used to capture dangerous dogs. The animal control officer used the pole to carry the fox into the woods, where a police officer shot it.

The dead fox's brain will be tested for rabies at a state laboratory in Augusta and the results will be released Wednesday, said Dr. Stephen Sears, the state's epidemiologist. If evidence of rabies is found, those who came in contact with the fox will be advised to receive an injection of Human Rabies Immune Globulin if they haven't already, Sears said.

Rabies is a deadly virus that typically spreads when a diseased animal attacks another animal or person shortly before it dies. Rabies can be passed from animal to animal or animal to person, but not person to person.

An initial report of a fox acting strangely came in Monday afternoon from the same area, Lt. Bernard said. The police dispatcher was told that a fox approached someone on a jogging trail and made a strange noise before being scared away. Police responded but could not find the animal.

The fox began its rampage on Tuesday at about 6 a.m.

"A guy is sitting in his truck waiting for Home Depot to open and the fox jumps in his window," Bernard said. After biting the man in the arm, "he got away from the vehicle and the fox took off. "

The man in the truck was advised to seek medical treatment for possible rabies exposure, as were all of the other people who came in contact with the animal.

"While we were investigating that (attack on the truck driver), a jogger approached the officers and said he had been attacked as well," Bernard said. The jogger kicked the fox away and was not bitten, but was considered to be exposed.

Shortly after that, a man and woman who said they were homeless and camping near Clark's Pond flagged down a motorist to call police. The man had been bitten in the face and the woman in the leg, Bernard said. The bites were not severe wounds, Bernard said, but clearly required medical attention. "The more pressing need is the rabies," he said.

One of the campers was taken to Maine Medical Center while the other sought treatment at a local clinic.

Sears said that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention usually sees an increase in rabid animals in the summer, because there are more animals and people active outside.

So far this year, the Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory has had 30 animals test positive for rabies, according to a report. Three of those were red foxes.

Gray foxes caused two separate evacuations of Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth in July 2011. One fox bit a 3-year-old boy on the arm and his mother on the leg. The fox, which was later shot, tested positive for rabies.

Bernard said people should be on the lookout for sick animals and advised that anyone who has had contact with a fox, especially in the area of Tuesday's attacks, seek medical attention.

Karen Antonacci can be reached at 791-6377 or

kantonacci@pressherald.com

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