If you read today’s installment of the Morning Porch, you may have been led to envy my father’s good fortune in having such a rare encounter with a gray fox, a creature of generally reclusive and crepuscular habits. That’s how I felt, too, until we spotted it again in mid-afternoon, up in the corner of the field. Mom was watching a small flock of wild turkeys through her binoculars, when all of a sudden the fox jumped out from behind a clump of dried goldenrod. The birds moved away from it, but didn’t really spook, and the fox walked a short distance and disappeared into the weeds again. So we went up to get a closer look, and the video shows what we found. In the morning, it had acted normally aside from its lack of fear, but now it had blood all over its muzzle, presumably from attacking something, and was clearly in the advanced stages of rabies.
I went back down to the house and read up on the disease. Here’s what the Wikipedia had to say:
The virus has a bullet-like shape…
The route of infection is usually, but not necessarily, by a bite. In many cases the infected animal is exceptionally aggressive, may attack without provocation, and exhibits otherwise uncharacteristic behaviour.
The period between infection and the first flu-like symptoms is normally two to twelve weeks, but can be as long as two years. Soon after, the symptoms expand to slight or partial paralysis, cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, hallucinations, progressing to delirium. The production of large quantities of saliva and tears coupled with an inability to speak or swallow are typical during the later stages of the disease; this can result in “hydrophobia”, where the victim has difficulty swallowing because the throat and jaw become slowly paralyzed, shows panic when presented with liquids to drink, and cannot quench his or her thirst. The disease itself was also once commonly known as hydrophobia, from this characteristic symptom. The patient “foams at the mouth” because they cannot swallow their own saliva for days and it gathers in the mouth until it overflows.
Death almost invariably results two to ten days after the first symptoms…
When I was a kid, I remember being terrified of rabies. Mom tells me that’s because, when I was four or five years old and we were still living in Maine, there was a bad outbreak of it. One day a rabid red fox staggered into our front yard, and she kept us inside all day and for a couple days thereafter.
I went back up to the corner of the field with my arthritic old .22 and scoured the area, but the fox was gone. It occurred to me that the last time I’d used the gun was to shoot a house cat with advanced feline leukemia some eight years ago. As it turned out, though, I didn’t have to be the executioner this time, because a few minutes later one of our hunter friends showed up, a guy named Jeff who lives close by and gets off work at 3:00. He had a much more effective rifle than mine — no surprise there — and we all went to look for the fox. I heard a robin scolding in the woods, followed the sound and discovered the poor thing lying a few feet off one of the trails. Its head was up, and it was still working its jaws and making a slight spitting-coughing noise.
There are times when the boom of a rifle is a very welcome sound, and this was one of them. I returned with a shovel a little later at my mother’s urging and buried it three feet down. This is the hungriest time of year; why risk infecting anything else? But it’s a hard thing to throw clay on something so beautiful.
A little later, Mom stopped by to say that a few coltsfoot and one purple crocus were in bloom — our very first flowers of the year.