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Fox attacks have neighborhood worried

Brockton animal control supervisor Thomas DeChellis lowered a sedated silver fox into an animal carrier in Mary Ellen Nutting's backyard yesterday. Brockton animal control supervisor Thomas DeChellis lowered a sedated silver fox into an animal carrier in Mary Ellen Nutting's backyard yesterday. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Jazmine Ulloa
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2009

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BROCKTON - Mary Ellen Nutting had been in her backyard garden picking vegetables for a friend when she heard scratching on the other side of her wooden fence. Nutting, who had spotted a red fox crouching around her yard earlier, did not wait to see what made the sound.

She and her friend bolted toward her Oak Street home, and Nutting turned around to see the animal chasing after them. While her friend made it inside, the fox gripped Nutting’s ankle between its teeth. Nutting, who had been holding a watering-hose stick the size of a golf club, began beating the creature until it fled, she said.

“I am still petrified,’’ she said of the incident, which occurred Wednesday night.

Animal control officers were searching yesterday for the red fox that bit Nutting and a silver one they said was responsible for two other attacks in the same neighborhood on the city’s north side, animal control supervisor Thomas DeChellis said. A fox was caught in Nutting’s yard yesterday, but it was unclear if it was the fox that bit her. Many gray foxes also have a lot of red fur, and the same fox may be involved in all three incidents, said Marion Larson, a biologist with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Nevertheless, fox attacks are rare occurrences in Massachusetts, they said.

“I have been working for 15 years in animal control,’’ said DeChellis. “This type of incident has never happened.’’

Animal control officers set up traps in several yards and were patrolling the area yesterday for the foxes, which they believed may have been guarding a den of pups, DeChellis said. The fox that was caught will be taken to a state lab in Jamaica Plain today to be tested for rabies, according to Councilor Christopher J. MacMillan.

The symptoms displayed by the foxes are so unusual that the animals may have distemper or an aggressive form of rabies, Larson said.

The furry creature that dashed toward 9-year-old Isabel Robbins on Monday night from under a neighbor’s bushes looked like a big, gray cat, but it bit onto the lace of her inline skate and shook so hard that she screamed. Her mother, Jennifer Robbins, had been walking in front of her with her 3-year-old sister. She turned around and dragged Isabel down Martland Avenue as they both yelled for help.

Before the silver fox could sink its teeth into her skin, a neighbor came out and scared the animal away.

“I am never wearing those skates again,’’ Isabel said.

Mary Seaver, 69, was not so lucky Wednesday. She said she also thought she saw a cat as she was spreading mulch underneath the bushes in her garden during the afternoon. Instead, a silver fox darted out from the brushes and latched unto her ankle. Seaver cried out, grabbing the animal by the scruff of its neck and prying its mouth open, she said. The fox scampered off.

“I looked down and a lot of blood was spilling from my sneakers, copious amounts,’’ said Seaver, who called 911 and was taken to the hospital. “I have not slept well. I was up shivering in fevers.’’

Both Seaver and Nutting said they received rabies shots. They have bandaged ankles and are expected to recover quickly. Isabel Robbins said she does not want to play outside. Her family and others in the neighborhood have been rattled by the incidents.

Tracy Reyes, 33, who lives on Oak Street, said she has not let her children play outdoors since the attacks. “We are very nervous,’’ she said. “When we go out, we check the bushes.

Although the attacks are strange, it is not unusual for foxes to inhabit urban and suburban areas, because it is easy for them to find food, such as birdseed, pet food, smalls pets, and trash, Larson said.