So a big healthy red fox bounded out of our neighbor’s backyard in Fairfax City the other morning, and then trotted casually up the sidewalk like he was on his daily constitutional. Like it was his sidewalk. Which it kinda was, because we sure weren’t going out there.
A few hours later, the Fairfax City police issued an advisory about a rabid fox elsewhere in the city. And last year in our neighborhood, a rabid fox attacked a small dog in her own backyard. The 12-year-old dog, Nikki, a Welsh terrier trained by local dignitaries Billy and Beckie Reilly, somehow won a TKO [later a permanent KO by animal control] and got a seat of honor in the city’s Fourth of July parade.
And THEN there are the recent Tales of Beaver Horror: The lady swimming in Lake Barcroft who was attacked by a rabid beaver last month, followed several days later by a group of children in Springfield who were chased by a beaver who jumped out of the water onto the dock at Hidden Pond Nature Center. PLUS there’s the expanding coyote population, seen recently in both Arlington and Fairfax, where they’ve tangled with some dogs in Daniels Run Park. Are you feeling the hysteria yet?
Crazed foxes, beavers, coyotes, Post editors: Is rabies on the rampage? Can the children and pets go outside? Can we?
Turns out that rabies is not on the rampage, the experts agree. Though when traveling through the woods, it is suggested that children stay in groups, Fairfax City Animal Control Officer Joyce Holden said.
In Fairfax County, there has “not been an increase in rabies,” health department spokesman Glen Barbour said, “but an increase in rabies reports of interactions by humans, which is more because of the unusual circumstances in those cases.”
Barbour said the county has tested roughly 400 animals for rabies this year, and tested only animals who have already been captured for some reason, not just random testing. Of those 400, about 50 had the rabies virus, which he said is not an unusual percentage. “Rabies is endemic” in the animal population and is regularly monitored, but Fairfax has seen no rise in the amount found, Barbour said.
Vicky Monroe, the wildlife biologist for Fairfax County, said the mild winter and flooding in some wetlands may have changed the behavior and movements of many animals, particularly raccoons, who are known rabies carriers along with foxes, skunks and bats. She said the Lake Barcroft beaver had raccoon rabies, probably from a fight with a raccoon.
But both the human and wildlife populations are expanding, Monroe noted, which sets up some inevitable conflicts, whether rabies is rising or not.
Alonzo Abugattas, Arlington’s natural resources manager, said his county had not noticed any increase in the calls for rabid animals.
Holden said part of the aggressiveness, in addition to rabies, may come from people feeding wild animals, which creates an expectation that we all have food for them. She said animals can’t be relocated, so Fairfax City is encouraging “passive hating” of possibly aggressive animals, by clapping hands, throwing sticks, yelling or stomping feet. “Give them reasons to fear humans,” Holden said, but without hurting the animals.
Here’s a news piece that WUSA-9’s Elizabeth Jia did on the epic battle between Nikki the terrier and the rabid fox last year.