David Watson points to the spot where a rabid groundhog leaped out from the tree line and attacked him at his Brunswick home July 23. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

David Watson was working on his lawn tractor in his backyard on the afternoon of July 23 when he noticed a brown blur zip by the tree line.

“I didn’t know what it was at first,” said Watson, who was on the ground fixing a belt on the tractor.

Suddenly, a groundhog popped out and charged the 75-year-old Brunswick town councilor. It scurried back to the woods then jumped back out and hopped on the mower, a few inches from him.

“My mental comment was, ‘I hope he’s friendly.’ But he wasn’t,” Watson said. “He came up over my left hip and attacked my right inner thigh.”

The animal bit through Watson’s pants, breaking the skin. Realizing the animal was likely rabid, as groundhog attacks on people are extremely rare, Watson, a former Brunswick police officer, went into his house, grabbed his revolver and went back outside. He said the animal charged him again, so he fired, killing it instantly.

Watson called police, who contacted the Maine Forest Service. Within an hour, a ranger called Watson and said he was driving to his home to pick up the dead animal and take it to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, where it would be tested for rabies. Rabies can only be detected in a dead animal because the test requires analyzing brain tissue.


The test came back positive July 24, the day after the attack. A CDC official called Watson, who immediately went to Mid Coast Hospital to start a series of rabies shots. Rabies in humans is almost always fatal if left untreated long enough that symptoms start to show. Watson said he has no symptoms and will take his last shot Monday.

“It’s kind of scary,” he said. “I’m happy it happened to me and not some young kid.”

David Watson points to where a rabid groundhog bit him; he shot the animal after he said it tried to attack him again. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

Reported animal rabies cases in Maine are on this rise this year compared to last year. As of July 28, 41 rabies cases have been reported, compared to 35 all of last year, according to the Maine CDC. Two rabid raccoons and two rabid skunks were found in Brunswick earlier this year.

Rabies cases had been steadily dropping each year from the modern high of 89 in 2019. After a series of rabid fox attacks in the Bath area in 2020, officials started a controversial trapping program that caught 24 raccoons and four skunks but no foxes. Of the 28 animals that were killed and tested, none were found to have rabies.

In 2022, federal wildlife officials scattered millions of fish-flavored rabies vaccine packets in Maine, aimed at reducing the virus in raccoons. These vaccination efforts have primarily happened in northern parts of the state, where wildlife agencies have said they would have the most effect mitigating the spread.

In March, a rabid raccoon entered a Bowdoinham woman’s home and attacked her, another rare occurrence. A few days later, suspected rabid raccoons attacked a man, dog and a stray cat in the same community.


Watson, who has served on the Town Council since 2002, said he trusts state and federal officials to manage the spread of the virus. He said he wanted to publicize the attack so people in the Brunswick area realize the threat exists. He also urged people to report instances of wild animals acting strange to police.

Rabies is most commonly found in animals like raccoons and foxes in Maine. But other animals, including groundhogs and skunks, can contract it. So far this year, the virus also has been found in bats, a cat and a goat, according to state data.

Signs of a rabid animal include mobility problems, excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth, and abnormal aggression, including attacks on people. Rabies, found in the saliva of infected animals, is spread through bites or scratches, since animals routinely lick their paws.

“It’s important people understand when they see an animal not acting normal to call the police,” Watson said. “Get yourself and your children and pets inside and let the professionals handle it.”

Watson credited police and state agencies for their fast response after the attack.

“I can’t commend the response more. It was incredible,” Watson said, adding the shots he has to take are relatively painless.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “It’s been quite a ride.”

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