Jim Caperelli said he was walking his bloodhound Copper outside his Dewey home Nov. 4 when a fox lept from under his car and bit Copper on the face.
Copper yelped and the fox ran toward an unoccupied house, Caperelli said, but a larger fox emerged from under the car and crouched on Dagsworthy Avenue. The fox moved aggressively toward Copper.
“Copper is a 125-pound bloodhound,” Caperelli said. “He was going ballistic, and the fox would not back off. He had no fear. I could see him clearly because of the bright lights of the liquor store. I was scared he was coming at me.”
Caperelli said he managed to pull Copper away, up to his third-floor terrace and into the house, when he saw scratches on Copper’s nose and blood running down his face. He said he reported the attack to Dewey police, who called Delaware Animal Services.
“They called me and said it’s a pest problem, not their problem,” he said. “This is not a bee’s nest. It’s wild, dangerous animals. The thing was vicious. If it was capable of attacking a dog, it can happen to a human.”
Caperelli said Copper had his regular rabies vaccination two weeks ago, so it’s too soon for his booster shot.
Despite Copper’s proof of vaccination, Delaware Animal Services quarantined him for 45 days in case of rabies exposure. Copper is allowed to stay at Caperelli’s home but cannot have any contact with other dogs.
Caperelli, who owns doggie daycare Taj Ma Howl in Dewey, said quarantining his dog doesn’t solve the real problem - dangerous foxes in the neighborhood. He is also worried about his clients’ dogs.
“I do so many dog walks each day,” he said. “It’s not fair I have to keep my head on a swivel and eyes in the back of my head. I’m on pins and needles now. They need to be walked, obviously, so this is affecting me more than the normal resident and business owner.”
Caperelli said he can’t get a straight answer from state agencies on who is responsible for removing the animals.
“They’re trying to pass the problem from one agency to another,” he said. “That’s the problem. Someone has to step up - no matter who - and do something before another animal or a human gets hurt.”
Michael Globetti, spokesman for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said the Delaware Department of Agriculture handles potential exposure of rabies for animal-on-animal cases.
He said DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife would help euthanize wild animals that threaten humans or attack domestic animals, particularly pets, but did not respond as to whether DNREC would trap and remove the animal. Globetti said property owners could hire a wildlife control operator to remove potentially diseased or nuisance animals.
“We have foxes running wild in Dewey. To say it’s my responsibility is appalling,” Caparelli said. “The foxes aren’t on my property, nor was the attack on my property. It’s property of Dewey, and Dewey needs to hire someone to remove them. Period. End of story.”
Delaware Department of Agriculture Chief of Community Relations Stacey Hofmann said dogs that are bitten should be seen by veterinarians, who report possible rabies exposure to the Agriculture Department.
“It is odd for a fox to just attack another dog like that in an area where you have civilization and people walking, which creates suspicion that the fox might be ill,” Hofmann said. “When there is a wild animal behaving aggressively, like this fox, it is recommended that the person contact DNREC’s Wildlife Section.”
A Delaware Animal Services welfare officer who did not wish to be named because of his position said the Town of Dewey Beach is responsible for protecting its citizens from animal attacks.
“People and animals walking around are all at risk,” he said. “Unfortunately, no one is going to do anything about it until a person gets bit.”
In October 2017, Dewey Beach Patrol Captain Todd Fritchman, acting on behalf of the town and with an animal-control permit, trapped three red foxes seen on the beach and at homes on Chesapeake Street in response to citizens’ requests they be removed.
Town Manager Scott Koenig said Dewey has a history of an active fox population and related complaints over many years, but he thought the issue was mainly in the north end of town.