The rabid fox

New England is storybook status this winter.  And running is a dream on this snow-packed back road that weaves itself through the woods and around a water garden-sounding brook.  Only five driveways spur off this remote passage that never sees the town plow.  I’m running free and clear.  Not a soul around.  Just me, the snow, the trees, the brook, the birds, the fox… 

 Ahead of me, off to the left, in the distance, in a small clearing in the woods, I see a fox.  It looks completely grey, which is unusual.  Even the grey foxes I’ve seen have some reddishness to them.  All grey…  It couldn’t be a wolf, could it?  No, it’s too small and catlike.  And it is shadowy there where it sits, like a sentinel, head down a bit, hunched.  How odd that it hasn’t wheeled around and run back up the hill into the thick of the woods by now.  Surely it has long since caught and identified my scent.  It should have been gone way before I was even aware of its presence.

 How extraordinary nature is—we’re allowed to enter it and all its inhabitants quietly let us look around, let us feel like we’re alone to marvel at the intelligence behind its infinite beauty.  Often, we aren’t so kind when nature visits us.  That’s sad.   

Maybe the fox is nature’s revenge.  It hasn’t moved.  Run you silly thing!  I’m a fierce creature from the species Homo sapiens, with a history of hunting that goes back 350,000 years.  Some of us are black-hearted and kill just to kill.  I could be one of those!  Run, you foolish beast!  It doesn’t move.  I moderate my pace, for a thought crosses my mind to not look like I’m in serious flight, flight that may trigger the fox’s own killer instincts.  I adopt what I think might look like a casual trot, travelling more vertically than horizontally, and I try to clear a path in my mind, through the fearful thoughts, just wide enough to push to the forefront a certain coolness, an indifference.  I’m getting awfully close to this fox…  And now I see it’s holding a front paw forward and up a bit.  Maybe it’s hurt.  What would I do?  What would it do?  Certainly, it didn’t enter my mind to put an animal control number for this area in my cell phone.  I’m only here for a few weeks.   

 What if it’s rabid?  I squint to check for foam in the area of its mouth.  I don’t see anything, but really it’s still a bit too far to see that level of detail.  But something’s up with it.  It looks like a cat, frozen in a poised position, a retracted spring under pressure, waiting for provocation to tear toward its victim in a flurry, covering the ground from there to here in a helpless instant.  Then what would I do?  I slowly slide my cell phone out of my pocket and punch in 911.  Now I’m poised, my thumb over the “talk” button.  I’m walking now, trying to swing wide and as respectfully far away from the fox as I can given the limits of the snow banks along the road.  If I leave the road I’m in snow up to my thighs.  I’m not looking forward to getting adjacent to the fox, but if I go back I’m going further into the woods and farther from help.  And when I pass it, if I can pass it, I’m going to have to keep my eye on it, walk backwards or sideways or something.  That miserable fox still has not moved.  This is it.  Getting almost level with it.  Then I think by the time the 911 call went through, the fox would have already…





 What if a tree stump that looks like a fox is really a fox?  And what if the fox attacks?  What might be done with those thoughts? 


 A.  Play ostrich:  denial and avoidance rule.  What are the odds of a fox attack anyway, for crying out loud?  There’s no need to be inconvenienced with worry, no need to have to look up a bunch of stuff, no need to carry an arsenal when communing with nature.  Don’t think about it and it doesn’t exist. 


B.  Freak out:  get information from every source possible.  Call the state fish and wildlife department, the local animal control and local police, and find out the exact number of fox attacks that have occurred in the area for the past one hundred years.  Make a study, draw up a graph, create a what-to-do flow chart and print a bunch of copies—one to carry at all times, one for the car, and one for every relative and friend.  Go to guns—get mace, get a concealed weapons permit, and for those who are bad shots, buy a scattergun. 


C.  Find a happy medium:  get informed, be cool, and be prepared. 


D.  None of the above.




I did an internet search regarding fox attacks and I’ll be darned!  The little rascals are occasionally into terrorizing, especially when their minds aren’t right, when they’re ripe with rabies.  In the USA, except for rabies-free Hawaii, according to, foxes keep company with skunks, raccoons, and bats in the rabies hall of fame.  Foxes live in dens and roam, so if one unfortunate creature’s brain and nervous system has been attacked by the rabies virus, chances are a bunch of them in and around the area have the same fatal problem.  I understand rabies can show up in one of two ways:  sickly lethargy or blind-scratching-biting-mad aggression.  And apparently the best advice, if you’re faced with an aggressive rabid fox and there’s no escape, is to “fight it off as best you can, do as much damage as you can,” this, per Massachusetts’ Division of Fisheries and Wildlife biologist, Marion Larson.  And once you break loose, head straight to the doc for your battery of rabies post-exposure vaccinations!  But animal attacks are indeed rare so I’m going to take all that I learned with me into nature, be cool, and be prepared.     

4 responses to “The rabid fox

  1. Wiser words never spoken, and I should learn from them, as I find that many a tree stump of my youth can still come to haunt me in an unguarded moment. You resolved to a “happy medium”, as I often have to an unhappy one. I hearby resolve to “be cool, and be prepared… to laugh”.

  2. Bass: …to laugh! That’s it! Writing this was the laughing along with my experience in addition to respecting its lesson. Keeping life flowing free and clear of incapacitating fear by seeing humor in our experiences is the subtext. :-D

  3. I got a kick out of this. The other day I was sitting in the library and noticed a woman staring at me out of her office. I put my glasses on and saw that it was a poster of a man suggesting that I read books.
    I lived in Switerland during a rabies epidemic, and when walking in the woods (no runner I) always carried a stick. My husband and a friend (runners) found a dying rabid marder (I think that’s what it’s called) on a run. They stuck a stick into its mouth and ran on unharmed.
    Many who bring animals into Hawaii protest against the vaccination and quarantine rules, but those of us who have experienced rabies epidemics understand their necessities.

  4. Hattie: really great stuff!
    It benefitted me to hear of your husband’s successful rabid animal thwarting. Thanks for that, and yes! keep those beautiful islands rabies-free!
    I loved the poster encounter! How perfect. I’m still laughing. It’s one of those close-to-home things that’ll crack me up every time I think of it.
    Reminds me of a similar sort of thing that happened when I was a teen. I was sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car at a full service gas station while a goofy male attendant pumped fuel for us. I was staring past the pumps toward the station at something amusing and I realized the attendant thought I was smiling at him. He was grinning at me through the car window. I could have died a thousand deaths!

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