BOWDOINHAM — Police are telling residents in Bowdoinham to be on the lookout after a woman and her dogs were attacked by a gray fox Tuesday night.

The sheriff’s department was called to a home on Pond Road just after 9 p.m. where two dogs were bitten by a fox, according to police. While trying to get the dogs back inside, 39-year-old Jennifer Herbert was bitten in the leg and buttocks.

The sheriff’s department, along with Cliff Daigle, Bowdoinham’s animal control officer, were still at the Pond Road home when they got another call at 9:37 p.m. from a resident on nearby Route 138 in Bowdoin who had killed a fox after it chased and bit one of their dogs and tried to get inside the caller’s house.

The homeowner managed to close the door on the fox, pinning it, according to Chief Deputy Brett Strout with the sheriff’s department. Daigle said the man’s son then struck the fox with the butt of an unloaded gun, killing it.

While in two different towns, the homes are within about 500 feet of each other, Daigle estimated, so he believes it was the same fox. In both cases, the fox appeared to have quills in its face and smelled of skunk. It’s common for rabid animals to tangle with skunks and porcupines, as the animals tend to be far more aggressive than they would otherwise. It also means there are likely other animals affected with rabies in the area.

The fox was taken to the Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory where it tested positive for rabies.  A disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, rabies is typically spread through a bite or scratch from a wild animal that has the virus. If left untreated, it can lead to aggressive, unusual behavior and ultimately death.

Because Daigle and sheriff’s deputies couldn’t be completely certain it was the same fox, Herbert is undergoing rabies treatment at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick as a precaution. The series of shots that will cost approximately $10,000. Daigle said the dogs involved have been checked by veterinarians.

Ivy Driscoll said the family’s two dogs, Irie and Whiskey, were outside on the back porch, one of them on the dog run. Both dogs were looking toward the stairs, barking.

“I saw the fox — I didn’t know what it was, it looked like a dog to me — coming down the walkway getting ready to come up the stairs,” Ivy Driscol said. “I panicked and started pulling on Whiskey’s run and yelling to Irie to come in.”

Holding the door open trying to get the dogs back inside, Ivy Driscol got wrapped in the dog’s run and fell onto the kitchen table then onto the floor. She was screaming, drawing her son, Nathan Driscoll, and his fiancee, Herbert, from downstairs.

Herbert tried to get Whiskey away from the fox while Ivy said her son was able to get Irie in the house.

“That thing followed Jennifer back up the stairs, bit her in the rear and then proceeded to attack Whiskey again, and then bite Jennifer,” Ivy Driscoll said. “Her shoe was stuck in the door, and the (fox’s) head was in the door, trying to get in the house… . I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”

“It was just like possessed,” Nathan Driscoll said after returning home from the hospital with his fiancee Wednesday afternoon.

“I just remember he was wiggly,” Herbert said. “He just would not stop.”

Herbert said it all happened so fast. The fox followed her up the stairs and bit her leg, which is when she started to panic. By the time she got to the door, it bit her on her rear end. She had a bandage over three of the puncture wounds on her shin and had another puncture wound on the back of her leg. She had to get an injection directly into the wound at the hospital, which she said hurt more than the fox bites did.

Ivy Driscoll said she recently purchased Whiskey in Jamaica, so he’s been in Maine for about a month. The dog just recently received a rabies shot and has to be quarantined at home for 4 months. Whiskey fought off the fox, saving Irie, a 9-year-old yellow lab, she said.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been a total of 21 wild animals that tested positive for rabies this year in Maine. That includes a red fox, two raccoons and a skunk in Bath; a skunk in Bowdoin; and a raccoon in Bowdoinham.

No animals have tested positive in Brunswick this year, where seven people were attacked by rabid animals last summer.

Last year Mid Coast Hospital also treated a much larger number of people for rabies than in past years. According to Ranjic Advani, director of Emergency and president of the hospital’s medical staff, the Mid Coast Hospital Emergency Department has treated anywhere from 10 to 30 people every year over the last decade for rabies exposure.

“In 2018, we treated over 50 individuals for rabies exposure,” he said in an email to The Times Record. “This may have been because of increased exposure to potentially rabid animals, but may equally have been because of increased awareness in the region and the state.”

According to Advani, most potential exposures have been due to contact with bats, but have included possible exposure to foxes and raccoons.

Advani said the rise in rabies exposure treatment doesn’t raise his concern beyond the hospital’s normal level of vigilance and attention to state and national guidelines.

“If a person comes to our emergency room after being exposed, we follow post-exposure treatment protocol which involves a course of rabies vaccination treatments as well as immunoglobulin,” he said.

Not the first rabid animal encounter this year

The fox that terrorized two families Tuesday night is not the first suspected of rabies to strike in the Midcoast this spring.

Bath police announced in early April that a fourth wild animal had tested positive for rabies since February. No humans have been attacked there. And while there are no confirmed cases in Brunswick, the animal control officer has responded to 22 complaints of suspicious and possibly rabid animals this year as of April 18, most of them raccoons or skunks.

Neither Bath or Brunswick police departments could provide a list of all suspected rabies complaints for the past three years because they don’t specifically track incidents of rabies or suspected rabies.

“It’s very difficult to predict the spread of rabies within any community,” said Maine Wildlife Biologist Scott Lindsay, after Bath police announced the city’s fourth case of a confirmed rabies case last month.

Lindsay said in an urban or suburban area, it is quite possible to see a high prevalence of rabies in a short period of time, but tends to wane in the fall and winter, largely because animals are less likely to come into contact with one another as activity levels go down.

A disease that affects mammals, the animals most likely to carry rabies are raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. These are animals that do well in close proximity to humans. When there is a prevalence of animals with rabies in an area where more people live, there is a higher potential for people to come into contact with rabid animals, Lindsay said. And that is what leads to reportable cases of rabies. The Maine CDC’s lab tests wildlife that has contact with people or pets.

“Rabies is not going anywhere,” Lindsay said. “It’s likely going to be here at least for the foreseeable future, kind of like Lyme disease and is something we’re probably going to have to learn how to live with and manage.”

Lindsay said feeding wild animals can add to the problem, as raccoons, skunks and foxes are adept and foraging for their own food.

“Really, what that is going to do is trigger a real pattern of behavior and is going to condition it to look for food directly from people, and that is going to be a problem for that animal,” Lindsay said.

The state has rabies management guidelines it follows, which Lindsay said doesn’t contain any sort of threshold for rabies cases or incidents to trigger any sort of population control, though trapping is an option in some areas if the market makes it feasible.

Lindsay said state wildlife biologists with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are well aware that rabies is prevalent through many different species through the country and will probably remain within animals in Maine.

“The best thing we can do is minimize contact with animals that are potentially infected with it, learn to recognize the signs and symptoms and communicate effectively with persons responsible for managing it — primarily us,” he said.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention offered the following rabies prevention tips:

Don’t approach wild animals
Don’t pet animals you do not know
If you are bitten or scratched by an unknown animal, contact your healthcare provider for prophylaxis recommendations
If you are bitten or scratched by a known animal (pet etc.), contact your animal control officer to enforce an observation period for the animal
Ensure all pets and livestock are up to date on the rabies vaccine
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