PHIPPSBURG — A fox that later tested positive for rabies attacked and bit a Phippsburg man in his Brightwater Road backyard last Thursday.

Lawrence “Bill” Ryan, 82, said he was in his backyard when he noticed a fox that “was obviously in trouble.”

“It came into the backyard and it looked like it had a broken jaw and was flopping around on the ground,” said Ryan. “Foxes usually run away from humans, so I knew it wasn’t in good shape because he wasn’t running away. … He might’ve been hit by a car before because he was bleeding.”

When foxes do approach people, it’s a common indicator that the animal is rabid, Scott Lindsay, a regional wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, told The Times Record in an earlier interview.

Ryan said the fox charged him when he stepped outside with his gun to kill the fox.

“I had my gun and he charged me,” he said. “I booted him a good couple feet away because I didn’t want to shoot toward anyone’s house and he came back again and I shot him.”

Ryan immediately went to the hospital to receive treatment for rabies.

“[The fox] got ahold of my dungarees. … It was just a little scratch on my leg, but the people in the emergency room wanted me to have the shots anyway, just to be safe,” said Ryan. “I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Rabies is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal. It infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. Vaccines are 100% effective in combating the disease in humans but rabies is fatal if left untreated.

Mark Latti, communications director of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, told The Times Record wildlife is common in the southern Midcoast and seeing a fox walk through your yard shouldn’t be cause for concern. However, residents should feed their pets indoors and eliminate other food sources such as bird feeders, to discourage animals from coming near their homes.

Ryan said foxes frequently come into his backyard to eat seeds that fall out of his bird feeders. He has since removed the bird feeders.

This is the third fox from Phippsburg to test positive for rabies this year, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but the town saw no rabid animals last year or in 2018. The other two rabid foxes tested positive in February and April.

So far this year, nearby West Bath has had six rabid foxes, Bath has seen one, Brunswick has had two and Woolwich has had one rabid raccoon.

Neighboring Bath saw a surge of rabid foxes last year and early this year, with 18 people and pets attacked by rabid animals. The CDC confirmed 16 cases of rabies in Bath in 2019, compared to two in 2018 and none from 2015 to 2017.

Although rabies appeared to lay dormant for a few months, rabid animals have occasionally popped up in the southern Midcoast recently. Last month, two foxes charged a man in his backyard in Woolwich. Later that month, a rabid fox attacked a Brunswick man as well as an animal control officer that came to his aid.

The sudden rise in rabies cases in Bath last year led the city to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to trap species known to carry rabies, such as gray and red foxes, skunks and raccoons. The trapping program was designed to reduce the density of animal species that may carry rabies, lowering the chances of a human or pet coming into contact with a rabid animal.

The controversial program cost the city $26,611. Twenty-four raccoons and four skunks were caught in Bath and euthanized, but no foxes. None of the animals caught were carrying rabies.

In early February, Phippsburg selectmen decided against partnering with the US Department of Agriculture to set wildlife traps and instead offered to connect residents interested in trapping wildlife on their property with local fur trappers.

Only one Phippsburg asked to be connected with a fur trapper, according to Amber Jones, Phippsburg town administrator.

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