Mass. - Two attacks by potentially rabid animals in Fairhaven and Dartmouth this week have local and state officials reminding residents that summer is the season for rabies.
Tests confirmed Tuesday that a woodchuck that attacked a dog in Dartmouth on Sunday was, in fact, rabid. The test results come just one day after a Fairhaven woman was attacked by a fox. The woman is being treated for potential rabies infection.
The mid-sized, mixed-breed dog in Dartmouth was attacked in its owners' yard located in the center of town near Route 6, town Animal Control Officer Sandy Gosselin told South Coast news.
The woodchuck got away, but the next day the dog's owner saw a woodchuck "acting rabid" at the end of the street. He killed the animal by hitting it with a shovel. Gosselin said she picked up the body for testing two hours later.
"We do get the occasional rabid woodchuck, but usually it's skunks or raccoons," Gosselin said.
"Woodchucks can be confusing because it's normal for them to be out in the day. We don't want someone to flip out because they see a woodchuck cross the road or a raccoon going through the garbage; that's normal activity," she said. "The problem is when they start going after you. Wildlife should be afraid of humans. If they aren't, then you have a problem."
Rabid animal behavior includes running in circles, making strange noises, biting the air and chasing people and animals. Wild animals acting lethargic or staggering could be a sign that they are near death from rabies.
Gosselin said residents who see animals they suspect to be rabid should also call the non-emergency number for police to ensure a timely response.
Meanwhile, the Fairhaven fox that attacked a woman as she walked her dog on Birchfield Street at 6 a.m. Tuesday appears to have been caught.
Though the fox escaped after the attack, a Birchfield Street resident saw a fox in his yard that appeared to be rabid Tuesday evening and killed it, also with a shovel, Fairhaven Animal Control Officer Cat Mindlin said.
"Obviously, there's something wrong with a fox if a man with a shovel can kill it," she said. "Rabies is a horrible disease. The fox would have been suffering for the next few days before he died."
The fox has been sent to a state laboratory to be tested for rabies. Mindlin said it is unclear whether the testing will be successful because the shovel injured the fox's head and "the brain needs to be intact for rabies testing."
Despite the two closely timed incidents, animal control officials said there has not been a wave of rabies in the area. Gosselin said the woodchuck was the first animal to test positive for rabies "in a couple of months."