88-year-old Norman Kenney stands in the doorway of his home on Getchell St. in Bath Monday. Kenney has a black eye along with bites and scratches after being attacked by a likely rabid fox. He is holding a cane he used to fend off the fox. Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

BATH — He has a black eye and his fair share of bites and scratches, but 88-year-old Norman Kenney said he is doing well after his second battle with a likely rabid fox in four months.

The incident — one of several encounters with likely rabid animals in the region over the weekend — is becoming familiar in the southern Midcoast and in Bath in particular, where 16 animals tested positive for the virus in 2019.

Kenney, a retired Bath fire chief, was walking from his garage to his home on Getchell Street Friday when he heard a noise that he thought was made by his cat, which often walks up to greet him when he gets home. He called out to the cat, but was jumped by a fox instead.

He tried to fend off the fox with his collapsible cane, which came apart. The fox jumped at Kenney, managing to bite him just above his eye and knocking the glasses off his head. Kenney fell to the ground and tried to keep the fox at bay, suffering about 10 puncture wounds and cuts on his hand. Unable to get up without the support of the cane, he said he pinned the fox to the ground and did his best to keep it from biting.

“I got him by the throat and I laid there hanging onto him trying to strangle him for 12 or 15 minutes before I got help,” Kenney said Monday.

Laying on his stomach, he grappled with the fox until a man who was jogging on Middle Street heard Kenney shouting and came to help. Kenney told the other man to step on the animal’s neck.

That allowed Kenney to free a hand and get his cell phone out of his pocket. He handed the phone, covered in blood from his hand, to the jogger, who called 911. An officer arrived soon after and shot and killed the fox.

Police were already on the lookout for a rabid fox in the area after two people reported that the fox had chased their dogs on Rose and Middle streets.

Kenney was treated for rabies exposure at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick and released later that evening. Sunday, he went to thank the jogger, who lives nearby.

Kenney said Monday that he feels all right, but “That black eye looked like I’d been in a fight with Joe Lewis.”

Bath’s animal control officer brought the fox to the Health and Environmental Testing Lab in Augusta to be tested for rabies. The results are pending.

Just four months ago, Kinney killed another fox that attacked him outside his home. He stopped that attack by standing on the fox’s neck until it died.

West Bath attack on Sunday

Kenney’s battle with the fox on Friday wasn’t the only fox encounter in the area this weekend.

A Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office corporal shot and killed a fox after it attacked two men in West Bath Sunday evening. Shortly before 6 p.m., a fox attacked a man at 162 State Road while he was smoking on the back deck. The fox took one of the man’s shoes, according to Chief Deputy Brett Strout. A state game warden and Bath police officer tried to catch the fox but couldn’t find it.

Later, just before 10:30 p.m., presumably the same fox attacked another man about 500 feet away at 7 Moose Trail Dr. in West Bath.

“He tried to kick it away as he ran back into the house but the fox did, in fact, bite him on his leg,” Strout said.

A game warden took the carcass so it can be tested for rabies.

The man drove himself to a hospital for rabies exposure treatment.

Rabid animal attacks ongoing

Bath had 16 positive rabies test results in 2019, not all of these were from animal attacks, but include any possible exposure incidents to pets or people by different types of wildlife, such as foxes, raccoons, skunks and bats.

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the nervous system of mammals. It is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal. The disease, which is ultimately fatal, attacks the nervous system, making the infected animal unusually aggressive.

“We have started to see less calls for service involving possibly rabid animals as the winter progresses and this was the first such event in three weeks,” said Bath Deputy Police Chief Andrew Booth in a news release. “We continue to urge residents to use caution when they encounter wildlife, try to prevent outdoor food sources in their neighborhoods, such as compost piles or accessible garbage, keep their pets vaccinated (State law), and call us if they see suspicious-acting animals.”

State wildlife biologist Scott Lindsay said in an email Monday that it is difficult to predict the longevity of a wildlife rabies cluster in a particular geographic area.

Few mammals in Maine actually hibernate and red and gray fox remain active throughout the winter. Still, Lindsay believes the spread of rabies among mammals active in the winter will drop.

“It does not cease, but likely does decline,” he said. “For those individual animals in the latter stages of a rabies infection, the winter climate adds yet another challenge for them.”

In 2018, nine animals tested positive for rabies in Brunswick, three in Lisbon, four in Bowdoin, two in Bath and one animal tested positive in West Bath, according to the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Lab. Statewide, 112 wild animals tested positive.

In 2019, three animals tested positive in Brunswick, one in Freeport, one in Lisbon, one in Bowdoin, three in Bowdoinham, one in West Bath and 16 in Bath. Statewide, 105 wild animals have tested positive for rabies in 2019.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture drops oral rabies vaccine baits by air and ground every year in northeastern Maine to stem the spread of raccoon rabies, the department said it has no plans to distribute baits in the Midcoast.

The fishmeal-coated bait is designed to target raccoons, the species with the highest number of rabies cases in the eastern U.S. and can also be effective in targeting other wildlife such as foxes and coyotes, according to the USDA.

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said the department is working to eradicate rabies in the U.S. Eliminating rabies in the raccoon population is expected to take at least 30 years.

Before it can move its oral rabies vaccination zone to encompass the Brunswick area, the USDA must eliminate rabies in the northeast part of Maine, Espinosa said. Spot treating Brunswick or Bath for an outbreak would not be effective, Espinosa said, and it is cost-prohibitive to drop the baits statewide.

The city of Bath posted Rabies information on its website, cityofbath.com. Further information or questions about rabies may be directed to the Maine Center for Disease Reporting and Consultation at 1-800-821-5821 or maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectiousdisease/epi/zoonotic/rabies/index.shtml.

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