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Salisbury couple recovering after rabid coyote attack

SALISBURY — George Gilman, 79, has harvested game and wood from his property off Hubbard Road in Salisbury for decades. He’s dealt with everything Mother Nature could throw at him.
He remains undefeated, but a little worse for wear, in the aftermath of an attack by a rabid coyote on Monday, April 1. He and his wife Priscilla, 76, are now going through a progression of rabies shots after having been bitten by the coyote, which George was able to kill with a shotgun blast so that its remains could be tested at the Vermont Department of Health lab in Burlington.
“I think it was an isolated thing, but I do keep a closer watch,” Gilman said during a Friday morning phone call.
“It happened awful quick.”
It was at about 8:45 a.m. on that Monday that the Gilmans were walking back to their house from their nearby barn, where they had just fed their horse. The small to mid-sized coyote, which Vermont Fish & Game Warden Dale Whitlock estimated to have weighed 40 pounds, emerged from some bushes and charged at the couple with no warning or provocation.
George and Priscilla sustained multiple puncture wounds from the coyote’s teeth, according to Whitlock. Priscilla’s most serious injury was a bite to her right forearm. George sustained a nasty strike to the lower part of his right leg.
Both husband and wife tried to ward off the coyote with their hands and legs. But the coyote was bent on causing damage.
“The critter jumped up and tried to bite my head,” George Gilman said.
The couple was ultimately able to get inside their home, whereupon George grabbed his shotgun.
Undeterred, the coyote came at George again, at one point grabbing the barrel of Gilman’s gun in his teeth, according to Whitlock.
Gilman was able to shoot the animal in the head, a blast that fortunately didn’t damage the coyote’s brain to the point where that organ couldn’t be tested for rabies, Whitlock said.
While Whitlock collected the coyote’s remains for analysis at the state lab, the Gilmans were whisked to the Porter Hospital Emergency Department, where their wounds were treated. They received the first in a series of post-exposure rabies shots, even before the coyote’s brain had been tested. Health care officials take no chances with rabies, a disease that is almost always fatal if left untreated, said Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter.
The Gilmans as of Friday had each received four vaccinations, with another two remaining.
Whitlock is impressed by the elderly couple’s courage and resiliency.
“It was definitely a terrifying ordeal for them,” Whitlock said. “They are lovely people, so non-dramatic and wonderful to deal with.”
Fish & Game officials weren’t surprised to hear on April 3 that the coyote had tested positive for rabies, given its unusual behavior. They’re unsure how the Gilmans’ assailant had contracted rabies, but Whitlock said he detected an odor of skunk on the coyote. Perhaps the coyote had been bitten by a rabid skunk, he theorized.
Thanks to periodic drops of rabies vaccine bait and other efforts, rabies cases are few and far between in Vermont, with skunks one of the most likely carriers of the disease. But Porter and Whitlock both agreed it’s very rare to see a rabid coyote. Coyotes, they noted, are intelligent by nature and tend to be very timid and skittish.
“In my 22 years (as a Fish & Wildlife official), I have never had an incident like this,” Whitlock said.
Porter and Whitlock offered basic advice to folks who like to hike in the woods.
“Avoid animals that are acting strangely,” Porter said.
Obviously, all bets are off if an animal has rabies; it will attack without reason. But officials stressed that if you see an animal such a bear or a coyote, don’t corner it or provoke it. If the animal feels threatened or has offspring nearby, it might come after you.
“Admire them from a distance,” Whitlock.
And don’t let this isolated incident discourage you from enjoying the Vermont outdoors experience, officials said.
“There’s no reason for people to be afraid to go into the woods,” Porter said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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