Rehoboth officer guns down rabid, purse-snatching fox

September 14, 2012
Rabid foxes exhibit bold and vicious behavior and show no fear of humans. SOURCE NATURALUNSEENHAZARDS.COM

We all know foxes like gingerbread men, but boogie boards?

That’s pretty much the same reaction Sgt. Scott O’Bier had when he was dispatched to Park Avenue in Rehoboth one evening last week.

“It was 8:06 p.m. A man called in and said a fox was eating his son’s boogie board,” said the 15-year veteran with the Rehoboth Beach Police Department. “It didn’t sound good.  By the time I got there the fox was gone, but I could see where he had been eating.  I thought I better wait to see if the fox came back.”

Then the dispatcher called again.  A lady on nearby Pennsylvania Avenue had been bitten by a fox and was on her way to the hospital. O’Bier headed for Pennsylvania.

“I talked to some people on the porch across the street from where the lady had been bitten,” said O’Bier. “They said they saw the fox heading toward Lake Gerar. That makes sense.  They hang out there, hunting rabbits and ducks.”

O’Bier started walking the lake looking for the fox when the dispatcher’s voice came over his radio again. “Another lady had been bitten, this time on nearby Oak Avenue. Now I determined we really needed to find this fox.  It was 8 p.m.  There were people out on the streets with baby strollers - lots of people walking around.”

Armed with flashlights and shotguns, O’Bier and another officer intensified their search.  “The other officer saw the fox across the lake in a secluded wooded area along Oak Avenue.  In the area of 71, 72 and 73, there’s an old home in the woods, usually vacant.”  

O’Bier shined his high-powered patrol car spotlight into the woods, hoping to see his prey, feeling nervous that he didn’t, knowing the animal - probably rabid - had already attacked two people.

Then his peripheral vision kicked in.  The spotlight illuminated the side of one of the houses in the dark woods. O’Bier’s eyes showed him the big shadow of a fox crossing the house.  “That’s when I spun around. He was right there, about 10 feet behind me, coming at me, ready to attack.”  With his flashlight in his right hand and a short-barreled 12-gauge shotgun in his left, O’Bier raised the weapon and fired. But he wasn’t just thinking about firing the gun.  “It’s the rabid animal’s brain that has to be tested for the disease.  I knew from a previous experience that a decent brain sample would be needed, so I purposely tried not to shoot the fox in the head.  I didn’t.”

Fox goes down

The fox went down immediately but O’Bier fired a second time.  “That was just to make sure.  I was taking no chances.  I knew I was going to have to pick it up and put it in a bag.”

Fox dead, danger removed, O’Bier called the Sussex County Animal Control officer. “Cpl. Lewis picked up the fox for testing and then I went to the hospital to talk to the ladies that had been attacked. One told me she had been bitten on the back of her ankle.  She said she tried to beat the animal away with her purse and then it grabbed her purse and ran off.  It didn’t take it far before it dropped it.  The other lady said the fox also grabbed her from behind, by the ankle.  She hit it several times with her flashlight before it finally let go.”

Unfortunately, said O’Bier, the women had to be treated with the seven-shot rabies cocktail of antibiotics and vaccine.  “Animal control contacted us and the hospital and verified that the fox did have rabies,” said O’Bier. He said the fox he shot, other than its unusual behavior, was a healthy-looking animal. “Really healthy, in fact.  Not mangy at all.  Mange, contrary to what a lot of people think, isn’t an indication of rabies. The big clue is that animals have no fear of humans in that state of mind.  Both ladies said they were shocked that the fox had come at them so suddenly.”

O’Bier said the rabid fox incident was definitely an odd occurrence.  “We have lots of foxes in Rehoboth.  They don’t usually bother people.  In my 15 years as a policeman here that’s the first time I know of a rabid animal attacking someone.”

And then there’s that boogie board thing ... .