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Animal Attack

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    Animal was rabid

Thursday, April 27, 2000

NEWTON -- A rabid fox attacked eight people, including a 3-year-old, in Newton Centre Tuesday, and six of the victims were being treated to prevent the onset of rabies.

Most of the victims suffered minor injuries in the attack which began just after 11 a.m. and ended when police shot the animal about 5 p.m. The 3-year-old was repeatedly bitten, according to officials.

Nina Slote, 10, and a playmate were enjoying a quiet afternoon, pushing their bicycles along Garland Road in front of Nina's house, when they heard a dog barking, according to the girl's mother, Karen Slote.

Turning to see the source of the commotion, Nina saw a small red fox skulking along the sidewalk behind them. Apparently without warning, the fox began to attack the two girls. One managed to escape, but Nina did not.

"Her friend ran out into the road, and the fox went after Nina," said Karen Slote. "It just kept going after her leg."

That is when Slote's next door neighbor, Louis D'Attilio, tried to help.

"They were screaming bloody murder. I ran over to see what I could do and that's when he came running out through the bushes at me," D'Attilio said. " I didn't want to get bitten, so I gave him a kick and he went for a loop."

The fox then resumed its attack at D'Attilio, who tripped over some rubble while backing away.

"I was on my back and kicking at him. I still got outfoxed," he said. "He bit me several times just above the ankle."

The fox then ran off.

According to Lucille Riddle, the Newton animal control officer, the fox was shot by a Newton police officer after the animal took refuge under a shed on Carthay Circle.

The animal's body was sent to the state lab in Jamaica Plain for rabies testing. Victims of the attack began anti-rabies treatments immediately.

"They're a lot easier now than they used to be," said D'Attilio. " You get one in each arm, one in the buttocks and one in the thigh. I got to go Friday for more."

Even before the release of the results, Dr. Michael McGuill, a public health veterinarian with the state Department of Public Health, said the animal, in all likelihood, suffered from rabies, a debilitating and ultimately fatal virus that destroys the central nervous system.

McGuill's organization tests for and monitors rabies and other infectious diseases in the state.

According to Karen Slote, her daughter suffered a gash on her calf more than an inch long and almost a half-inch deep plus other, assorted scratches. She also began the battery of rabies shots Tuesday night.

"She went to school (yesterday), I think because she didn't want to miss being the center of attention," Karen Slote said.

The first call of a rampaging fox came at 11:13 a.m., Riddle said. In addition to the 3-year-old and the 10-year-old, a babysitter and three other people were being treated for rabies.

At times, as many as eight officers were searching the area, trying to corner the rampaging fox.

"We couldn't let this one get away. We had to shoot it or stop it from hurting other people," Riddle said.

The end came about 5 p.m. when Paul Enos, a resident of Carthay Circle, was approached by the animal. Enos beat the fox with a squeegee, driving it under a shed, where it was shot, Riddle said.

Riddle, a police officer assigned to the animal control division, has been at the job for 18 years. The animal attack sequence was the first of its kind in her memory.

"There are two forms of rabies," she said. "I had never seen this aggressive form before. Usually what you see is the dumb kind, when the wild animals become lethargic and even acts tame."

Louis Pastuer, the famous French scientist, first described the two forms of rabies, McGuill said. That dual description is still used today.

In Karen Slote's mind, the attack, while serious, could have been much worse. At nearby Mason Rice School, students have a half-day each. If they had all been walking home at 3 p.m., they would have walked right into the fox's line of attack, she said.

"We walked to school this morning. She was very glad it had been caught, or I don't think we would have been walking," she said.

According to Marian Larson, the outreach coordinator for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, attacks by animals on humans are rare. The most recent attack by a wild canine on a person happened on the Cape when a boy was bitten by a coyote. That animal tested negative for rabies.

"Remember, there are 6 million people in Massachusetts sharing 5 million acres of land with wildlife," Larson said.

There are, in fact, more raccoons per square mile in a city like Newton than in many rural areas. Food, shelter and water are in abundant supply there, she said.

Riddle warned that spring can be an unusual time. Normally nocturnal animals, such as raccoons, may spend their evenings guarding newly born young, then searching for food during the day while a mate watches the brood.

According to Riddle, people should only be concerned if the animal is clearly acting strange: staggering; foaming; biting; or attacking and stumbling are common signs of neurological illness.

(Tribune Editor Lucas Mearian contributed to this report).

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