Rabid fox attacks two people in Middlebury

“When I was on my back, (the rabid fox) came at me again. I managed to get up, I grabbed a tree branch and hit it a couple of times, and it went back under our shed.” — Will Nash

MIDDLEBURY — At least two Middlebury-area residents are undergoing rabies inoculations after having come into close contact with a gray fox this past Thursday, June 29, that was later confirmed to have been a carrier of the disease.

Both incidents occurred in the South Street area.

Middlebury officials said a woman was confirmed to have been scratched by the aggressive fox while walking her dog near the Middlebury College baseball field.

And South Street resident Will Nash sustained far more than a scratch. He shared his story with the Independent on Monday.

Nash — a professor of American Studies and English and American Literatures at Middlebury College — was walking from his backyard storage shed to his home at around 4 p.m. when he felt a “sharp, stinging” sensation on his right ankle.

“There’s part of a downed tree (in my backyard) and I thought maybe I had gotten a bad scratch from a limb,” he recalled.

But when he looked down, he saw that a gray fox had attached itself to his ankle, its teeth clamped across his Achilles tendon.

“It had come up from behind and bit me,” Nash recalled. “I yelled very loudly and kicked it away.”

Undaunted, the fox came back at Nash, again biting him on the right ankle.

“When it bit me again, it must have really bitten in, because at least one of the bite marks is actually a long rip — like when I pulled away the second time, it was still clamped down,” he explained.

Nash kicked the animal away again, whereupon Nash fell to the ground as he was reaching for a tree branch to use to defend himself.

“When I was on my back, it came at me again,” he said. “I managed to get up, I grabbed a tree branch and hit it a couple of times, and it went back under our shed.”

Nash went to see a neighbor, who gave him a ride to the Porter Hospital Emergency Department. There, he received treatment for his wound and received the first of four rabies shots. He got his second shot on Sunday and the final two will be spaced out during the next few days.

“The people at Porter were fantastic,” Nash said of the care he received.

Soon after the incident, a Vermont Fish & Wildlife official showed up at Nash’s shed, under which the fox had made its home. The official was able to flush out the fox, euthanize it and have its remains tested. The test was positive for rabies.

This was actually the second time in a month that the Nash family had had a rabies scare. Around a month ago, the family discovered that a bat had been roosting inside their home. Since the bat might’ve scratched them at some point while they were sleeping, the four family members each submitted to a precautionary immunoglobulin shot.

It turns out that bat in question wasn’t rabid, but the vaccination provided peace of mind and turned out to be one fewer shot that Will needed following his fox encounter.

Nash said the experience has made him and his family more vigilant while walking on their property and beyond. And that’s just what state and local health officials want to hear. While this particular fox was caught, it’s unknown whether the animal transmitted rabies to other wildlife prior to its demise.

It should also be noted that a cat in Shoreham also tested positive for rabies on June 23.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease of the brain that infects mammals and is fatal to both humans and animals. In Vermont, rabies is most commonly found in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and woodchucks, according to the Vermont Department of Health. Cats, dogs and livestock can also get rabies if they haven’t been vaccinated. Rabies is transmitted only when the virus is introduced into a bite wound, open cuts on the skin, or onto mucous membranes like the mouth or eyes.

If you’re bitten by an animal, wash the wound very well with soap and water and contact your health care provider. If your pet or farm animal was exposed to a wild or stray animal that might have rabies, contact your veterinarian. Pets should be vaccinated for rabies, and state law requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated — even barn cats.

Middlebury Health Officer Tom Scanlon warns you shouldn’t touch or pick up wild or stray animals — even baby animals — or try to make them into pets. Doing so can put yourself or your family at risk of exposure through a bite or a scratch. You can’t tell if an animal has rabies just by looking at it. Interacting with young wildlife may result in them being orphaned or, if tested for rabies, requires humanely euthanizing the animal.

“So, for their own sake, leave wildlife in the wild,” he said in a recent post on social media.

If you see a wild or stray animal acting strangely, or are concerned about a rabies exposure, call the Rabies Hotline (1-800-4-RABIES) or report it to your town’s animal control officer. In Middlebury, that animal control officer can be reached via the Middlebury Police Department at 802-388-3191.

To learn more about rabies in Vermont visit

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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