Rabid Fox at Horse Heaven in Athens, PA

The rabies virus and resulting illness formed a fearful specter within the human collective conscious as early as 3,000 BC when first recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The disease raged through Europe and the Middle East transmitted to humans largely by dogs; century after century without a known cure. In 1885 two scientist, Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux, developed a vaccine for the dreaded disease and administered it to a 9 year old boy named Joseph Meister. The vaccine proved a success; resulting in saving the boy’s life. Since the discovery of the rabies vaccine the disease has been kept under control; although, still persists in wild animal populations.John Ballentine

The rabies virus can infect any mammal including horses, goats, cattle and of course humans. Exposure to the virus occurs from the saliva of an infected animal; either through a direct bite, contact with broken skin or open wound, or contact with eyes, nose or mouth. Once the virus has obtained entry to the nervous system it multiples in muscle tissue; the virus slowly migrates towards the brain. During this incubation period the animal cannot transmit the disease; however, as soon as the virus reaches the brain and salivary glands the animal begins to display symptoms and become infectious to others. Symptoms of rabies include aggressive behavior, loss of fear, daytime activity by nocturnal species, difficulty swallowing, restlessness, decreased activity, incoordination, coma and sudden death.

Grey Fox Dcrjsr_Wikimedia CommonsOn April 29th at 6:00 in morning Connie snapped her dog’s leashes to the dog run cable near the back porch. She hurried back inside to shower and get ready for work. After her shower, halfway ready for work, her hair wrapped in a towel and wearing a tee shirt; she came back to get the dogs.

Trixie frantically dug near the woodshed as Connie tugged at the dog’s leash. Suddenly, out of the hole popped an angry grey fox. The female fox chased the two dogs as Connie pulled on the leashes and tried to get her animals to safety inside the house. The fox darted onto the porch using a feedbox and cat house as part of its obstacle course. Within seconds, the fox leapt off the porch and attacked Connie’s’ black lab, Molly; pinning the dog to the ground by its neck.Trixie and Dexter

At lightning speed, Connie ran to the dog’s aid, grabbed Molly’s leash, unclipped it from the cable and pulled the dog to its feet and towards the back door. Meanwhile the fox followed the pair and tried to get into the house. Connie grabbed the towel off of her head and flung the wet cloth at the aggressive animal attempting to shoo it off the porch. The two, fox and woman, continued their strange dance for a few minutes until finally the fox jumped off the porch and headed for the woods not far from the chicken coop.

Finally, now that the fox had left, Connie returned to the house and finished getting ready for work. Without warning, the sound of screeching cats filled the air. Fearing a cat fight in the backyard, Connie hurried to find out what was going on. When she opened the screen porch door and peered out; she saw the fox in the midst of an attack on her two cats, Oscar and Dexter. The fox pinned Oscar to the ground and stood on top of the cat.GrayFox photo by Tim Ross

Connie rushed into the house screaming, “Wake up Johnn! Wake up, get out of bed and grab your shotgun!”

After mobilizing Johnn, Connie finished dressing for work and left the house. Meanwhile, the fox crawled into the cat house on the back porch. Johnn readied his shotgun and walked out the backdoor headed for the woodshed in search of the fox. Not finding the animal there, he returned to the porch as the fox climbed out of the cat house and stood momentarily by the back door. Johnn took aim and shot the fox.

A few hours later, I pulled my SUV into the driveway in front of the stables. Johnn, busy doing chores, told me about the fox.

“I called the Game Commission but they said they didn’t test animals for rabies. I’d have to cut off the fox’s head and take it to a vet,” said Johnn.

“That doesn’t sound like fun. Where is the fox now?” I asked.

“I put it in the chicken coop.”

I saddled Pepper and headed for Round Top Park. The early morning sun cast a soft light upon the landscape and the fresh, new leaves filled the air with the fragrance of spring. After my ride, I climbed into my vehicle and started to back out of the driveway only to see Connie driving up the road. She stopped briefly and explained she left work to see if she could locate the cats which had been attacked by the fox.

Connie called the Game Commission. Although they had no record of Johnn’s earlier call; when they realized a human had been exposed to the rabies virus two officers were immediately sent out to Horse Heaven.

One Game Warden retrieved the dead fox from the chicken coop while the other questioned Johnn.

“Could you have shooed the fox away?” asked the officer.

“No, it was on my back porch trying to get at my wife and dogs. It’s not normal for a fox to be out in broad daylight acting so aggressive,” replied Johnn.

“A few days ago we received a report of a strange acting fox from up the road, but we couldn’t find it. Where did you shoot the fox?”

Johnn pointed to a blood stained board on the deck flooring next to the back door, “Right there.”

The officers from the Game Commission left with the dead fox and the next day Johnn and Connie received news about the animal. The Dept. of Agriculture and the Game Commission called the Ballentines informing them that the fox tested positive for rabies; the Dept. of Health called and explained that Connie needed to get a rabies shot. Notice of Rabies Quarintine

Connie immediately called Robin her vet and explained about the rabid fox. The next day, Robin came out to administer rabies vaccine booster shots to all of the horses. The dogs and cats received booster shots too.

A few days later, the vet from the Dept. of Agriculture quarantined the dogs, Trixie and Molly, for 60 days inside the house; although, the animals could go outside if accompanied by Connie or Johnn. Due to the fact that Connie didn’t have a record of the cat’s rabies vacinations; the cats, Oscar and Dexter, were quarantine for 180 days inside the garage, away from all contact with humans and other animals.

Two yellow papers, taped to the window near the front porch, informed the pubic that the animals were quarantined. Besides the anxiety and fear of dealing with a rabid animal; Connie and Johnn financially were out $350 for rabies booster shots. That brings a close to the episode of the rabid fox. Country living goes hand in hand with wildlife neighbors; sometimes a black bear after bird seed in your feeder, deer and rabbits nibbling your vegetables and shrubs and ever so rarely a rabid animal on a rampage on your back porch. If you thought country living was boring, think again; there is never a dull moment. Until next time – Happy Trails

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4 Responses to Rabid Fox at Horse Heaven in Athens, PA

  1. Oh my, this is such a scary story.
    What happened to the animals and Johnn and Connie are they all okay now? I meant what happened after the quarantine?
    As a nurse, I gave injections for people infected with rabies too.
    It’s very painful because we need to inject the medication on the bite mark itself and they have to follow a schedule for the next injection shots to make sure the virus won’t spread and it won’t reach the brain.
    Aside from that, the medications are very expensive.
    It’s best to be careful and give the animals their complete vaccines and also the humans.
    It’s quite obvious in the fox’s behavior that it’s rabid.

  2. Pat Miran says:

    Hi Cassiopeia, You’re right; rabies is nothing to fool around with. Connie had the rabies series a few years ago because of another incident with a rabid cat. She needed booster shots which were very expensive. Johnn didn’t come in actual contact with the fox even though he shot it, so he didn’t need rabies shots.

    All of the animals on the farm are fine; they all received rabies shots including the horses. The quarantined dogs and cats are doing well, but they still have to stay quarantined for a few more months. The dogs are quarantined until July. The cats are under the tightest quarantine in the garage and will be released around October. Connie makes sure they are feed and cared for every day. She’s confident that the quarantined animals will be okay, but in the meantime they are being watched closely.

    I’ll post the outcome of the quarantined animals in an upcoming blog as soon as they are released. Thanks for the great comment.

  3. shirley jennings says:

    Why was this not made public when it happened . I would Much rather be alerted to something and be on the alert than to read about it much later and have it be to late to do much about it. The game commission should have FREE RABIES CLINICS any time they have reason to believe there are rabies in an area. My daughter has had to have the rabies shots twice in the last couple years because of stray cats biting her,but still it is against the law to shoot these “stray” cats.After reading this story any strays will be disposed of at my place.

    • Pat Miran says:

      Hi Shirley, Sorry to hear about your daughter. Not sure what the Game Commission has or doesn’t have. I do know some of the animal shelters and Tractor Supply have rabies clinics for pets; however, that doesn’t help with rabies in wild animals. The rabid animal was a fox and the domestic pets which came in contact with the fox were and are still under quarantine.

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