I saw the animal approaching, but as my mind searched for a category to place it in, I could only come up with: maybe a fox? maybe a very large rat? We were at our mountain home in the Catskill Forest and my family and I were heading out to see a play at a local theater in Phoenicia, NY. It was about six o’clock in the evening in May and the sun was still high in the sky. My son was already sitting in our van and waiting for the rest of us. The automatic sliding door was still wide open. There’s a wooden deck just outside our front door and my mother-in-law was descending the deck steps and about to walk to the van. I was right behind her and my daughter was still on the deck just behind me. My husband was still in the house with a local plumber who was just finishing up on a job, fixing our water heater. As the animal approached, alarm bells went off in my brain, danger! danger! danger! I called to my son in a panic, “close the door! close the door!” He was sitting facing me and didn’t see the animal approaching the car from behind, so he just looked at me with a confused look on his face.
But the animal walked right past the van and up to my 80-year-old mother-in-law, as it clamped its jaws onto her pocketbook. The face of this animal was bloodied, the fur on its body was patchy and matted with blood, its tail was hairless and looked more like a rat’s tail. I came to realize that this was a fox with rabies and that it was crazy and unpredictable and therefore, a huge danger. My mother-in-law was in shock, holding onto her pocketbook with the fox at the other end of it. I was afraid she would fall in the struggle as the fox was pulling on his end. I grabbed the pocketbook from her and told her to get up on the deck. I told my daughter, who was still behind me, to go get her father who was still in the house. For the next few minutes, which seemed to go by in slow motion, I was alone with the fox. My son had finally closed the door to the van and my daughter and mother-in-law had gone into the house. Now I was thinking, should I let go of the pocketbook? If I did, what were the possible situations that might occur: 1. The fox might run away and therefore, could possibly return at another time to cause injury to someone in my family, or 2. It could lose interest in the pocketbook and then clamp its jaws on my leg! While I was trying to decide if I should let go of the pocketbook, the plumber came out of the house with this long pole-like tool he had been using. He banged the tool on the steps and the fox let go of the pocketbook and started to run away. A second later, my husband, who is a deer hunter, came out of the house with his shotgun. Like Charles Ingalls, from Little House on the Prairie, my husband pursued the dangerous fox. In a few minutes I heard a shot, the fox was dead. I was still holding the bloodied pocketbook.
We called Animal Control to ask what we should do with the carcass. They said any animal that looked and behaved like that had to have rabies. They didn’t need to come up to the mountain, but if we wanted to, we could put it in our van and take it to them . . . I don’t think so. So they said to bury it three feet deep. While he was on the phone, I had the pocketbook in the kitchen sink and I was taking my mother-in-law’s medication out of it. It seems she also had some peanut butter cookies in there. Maybe rabid foxes like peanut butter? Animal Control informed my husband that if anyone was in actual physical contact with the fox or its blood, that they were in danger of contracting rabies. So he kept asking me, “Did you touch the blood?” “Did the fox touch you?” I said, “No.” But that wasn’t good enough, he asked Animal Control what would happen if I hadn’t realized that I had touched the blood or that the fox had touched me. They said that if a person contracts rabies, by the time there are symptoms (like foaming at the mouth), it’s too late for treatment and the person will probably die. (Nice to know.)
Well, after I emptied all of the contents, we put the bloodied pocketbook in a ziploc bag and then into a plastic garbage bag. My mother-in-law had come prepared, she had brought an extra pocketbook with her. When I asked why she had brought an extra pocketbook to the country for the weekend she said, “Just in case we go to church on Sunday morning.” She has high hopes.
The mountain is like a giant rock, it is very difficult to dig three feet into the ground. But my husband dug down as far as he could, put the carcass in several plastic bags, poured ammonia on it and buried it in the ground. He then placed a bunch of large rocks on top of the grave to make sure no other animal dug it up.
This has become one of my mother-in-law’s favorite stories to tell, but in her version, she is the one who is alone with the pocketbook and the fox . . .
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy