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Fox caught on Capitol grounds and euthanized tests positive for rabies

The animal’s kits have been captured

A fox was captured Tuesday on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. (Capitol Police)
5 min

A mother red fox captured Tuesday on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol has been euthanized and has tested positive for rabies, said D.C. Department of Health officials.

The D.C. public health lab “has confirmed the fox that was captured yesterday tested positive for the rabies virus,” D.C. Health said in a statement.

The department said Wednesday in an email that there were nine “confirmed” bites by the fox over the past few days and that it had been “humanely euthanized” so rabies testing could be done. Health officials said they were contacting “all human victims who were bitten by the fox.”

Meanwhile, the animal’s kits — what fox babies are called — were found and “captured” Wednesday morning, D.C. officials said. Officials would not disclose where the kits were being kept or whether they, too, would be euthanized. City health authorities said in an email that they were “working to determine next steps for the fox kits.”

To figure out whether an animal has rabies, it has to be euthanized, and samples from its brain tissue have to be taken so tests can be run at a lab, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 120,000 animals a year in the United States are tested for rabies, and of them, about 6 percent are found to be rabid.

Health officials said “no other foxes” had been found on the Capitol Hill grounds but warned that it would “not be uncommon to see more,” because they are “present throughout” the city.

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City officials said they would not be doing a “roundup of healthy foxes in the area” and would intervene only to “remove wildlife if they are sick or injured” or if someone had been exposed and rabies testing would be needed.

They urged anyone who encounters an “aggressive, sick or injured fox” to contact animal control at 202-723-5730.

Lauren Crossed, a wildlife program manager at the Humane Rescue Alliance whose crews were involved in the capture of the rabid fox Tuesday, said it is “very common” for mother foxes to protect their dens and their kits.

But she said the fox was “exhibiting unusual aggression, spanning an area much larger” than experts would expect for a “fox just protecting her den.” Usually foxes protect their immediate area, she said, but this one was “traveling blocks to attack people.”

After getting several calls about people being bitten and also seeing the fox, animal control officers and Capitol Police began a search, and eventually two animal control officers, Christina Best and Chelce Peterson, found the fox. According to the Humane Rescue Alliance, the fox charged at Best, who used her net to catch it.

The fox became big news on social media Tuesday and even had its own Twitter account.

On Tuesday, Tim Barber, a spokesman for the Capitol Police, had said at least a half-dozen people had been bitten or nipped by the fox. D.C. Health increased that number Wednesday to nine.

Barber had said it was hard to figure out how many incidents there had been, because people were reporting them to various places, including Capitol Police, hospitals and clinics. Officials were “not sure how long” the foxes had been around the Capitol grounds or where they came from, Barber said.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) said in a telephone interview that he was among those attacked, about 5 p.m. Monday while he was walking near the Russell Senate Office Building.

“Yesterday was probably my most unusual day on the Hill in 10 years,” Bera said Tuesday.

After feeling something lunge at the back of his leg, Bera said, he turned around, expecting to confront a small dog. Instead, he saw a fox and wielded an umbrella to keep the animal at bay.

“I’m not going to let that fox get behind me,” he recalled thinking.

‘Aggressive’ fox caught on U.S. Capitol grounds after biting attacks

After Capitol Police responded, the fox fled in the direction of the Dirksen and Hart Senate office buildings.

A physician by training, Bera then inspected the damage. He found his pant leg perforated, he said, but did not see any punctures or blood on the skin around his calf and ankles.

Out of an abundance of caution, Bera said, he saw an attending physician, who consulted with infectious-disease doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He has now begun a series of 10 shots, he said, including immunoglobulin shots and a tetanus shot, to combat the disease in case he was exposed.

Bera warned tourists and others visiting the nation’s capital to beware.

“Obviously I’ve never seen a fox on the Hill,” he said. “The D.C. population should be cautious.”

Ximena Bustillo, a reporter for Politico, said Tuesday on Twitter that she was bitten.

One of the fox encounters occurred at the nearby U.S. Botanic Garden, and another took place on the House side of the Capitol, near the building foundation, according to a House alert sent by the office of the sergeant-at-arms.

On Tuesday, Capitol Police officials said they had received another call about a fox that approached staffers near First and C streets. They said that fox “may have a den in the mulch bed area on First and C near the Dirksen building.” Officials said there was another possible fox den near the “perimeter of the Russell building.”

Foxes are considered wild animals, and officials warned that no one should approach them. They are known to be “protective of their dens and territory.”

The fox’s Twitter account — @thecapitolfox — said Wednesday afternoon: “Gone but not forgotten. May you remember me fondly.”