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Attacking fox is killed after 2 people bitten in Whitman

By Jack Nicas
Globe Correspondent / August 11, 2009

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A fox crime spree in Whitman may have come to an end yesterday at the hands of a rake-wielding resident.

“I whacked him over the head with an iron rake,’’ said John Watt, 42, who was checking on his pet rabbits when the fox came at him about 7 a.m. The blow with the rake was fatal.

The animal, possibly rabid, is believed to have triggered seven police calls in Whitman on Sunday, during a rampage that left two people bitten, police said.

“I believe it’s probably the same one, but I’m not positive because there’s a den of them out there,’’ said Robert Hammond, the town’s animal control officer.

The trouble began just before 2 p.m. Sunday on Brigham Street, where six toddlers were playing in a backyard. The home’s owner, Tom Shannon, said a fox was lying in the shade of a pop-up camper.

“I’ve seen [the fox] two or three times before,’’ he said, “but always at night and never this close.’’

About 30 minutes later, a fox startled Cynthia Dorchester, 66, in her Franklin Street backyard. She threw a 5-pound bag of fertilizer at the canine, which it caught in its mouth, giving Dorchester time to get away.

“He was aggressive. I saw his teeth and he was ready to attack,’’ said Dorchester, who has never seen a fox in her 62 years in Whitman. “If I hadn’t had that bag in my hand, he would’ve gotten me.’’

Down the street less than an hour later, Jeannie Kenney was waxing her car when she was bitten in the buttocks, piercing her skin.

She received seven shots for rabies yesterday as a precaution.

“I was bending down and next thing I know he was on my butt,’’ she said. “It was just a little nip; there was some blood on my shorts.’’

It is unclear whether the incidents stem from the same fox.

Hammond said that, based on the animal’s actions, one of the town’s foxes has “gone bad. . . . All the symptoms say to me that it’s rabies.’’

Whitman police Officer Frank O’Rourke believes multiple foxes are menacing the area.

“There’s probably more than one,’’ he said. “The way they were traveling [Sunday] night, this fox had to have his best Nike sneakers on to travel that fast.’’

Four more sightings, two on Winter Street, one on Hickey Hollow Lane, and one on Franklin Street, came between 4 and 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. In one Winter Street case, a fox attacked a man’s foot, puncturing his sneaker but not his skin.

Later that night, Hammond, 68, shot at a fox.

“I may have hit it, but I’m not sure,’’ he said, adding: “It rolled over, then got up and ran off.’’

The body of the fox killed yesterday did not have a bullet wound, according to Hammond.

He said he’ll send the body to be tested for rabies, but because the carcass was left out in the sun all day - Watt killed it at 7 a.m. and reported it 11 hours later - the results may be inconclusive.

O’Rourke said that although foxes do inhabit the town, he has never heard of an attack during his 35 years of duty.

“But not even on my best days would I trust one,’’ he said.