By Doug Ireland
---- — DERRY — A fox that attacked a 5-year-old girl at Don Ball Park Thursday tested positive for rabies yesterday.
That means the youngster will have to undergo a series of five shots in the arm, according to acting state public health veterinarian Abigail Mathewson. Those injections are much less painful than shots to the abdomen, which was standard procedure years ago, she said.
“It’s really important for people to stay away from animals that are acting weird,” Mathewson said.
The child was taken to a local hospital at approximately 3:45 p.m. Thursday after the fox bit her ankle while she was playing at the park, Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said. The fox also attacked a dog shortly after it bit the girl, he said.
Mathewson said the state lab determined the fox was rabid and the Derry health officer was notified yesterday afternoon.
The fox is believed to be the same animal that attacked a 9-year-old boy as he played outside his Schurman Drive home Wednesday night, knocking him to the ground, Thomas said.
The fox began circling the boy and chased him as he ran toward his home, Thomas said. The fox knocked the boy to the ground, his mother told police.
The woman threw an object at the animal, which backed off and started chasing the boy again, Thomas said. She then swung a shovel at the fox, causing it to run into bushes, he said. Police searched the area, but could not find the animal.
Only a day later, police found themselves responding to the park for a report of a sick fox. The Humphrey Road park is about 200 yards from the Schurman Drive home, Thomas said.
The park was immediately closed and people were not allowed to be outside West Running Brook and Derry Village schools while two Fish and Game officers and seven members of the police department, including Thomas, searched for the fox for more than three hours.
The animal was spotted in the woods off Cemetery Road Thursday evening and shot by a Fish and Game officer, he said. Don Ball Park was reopened.
But local residents visiting the park yesterday with young children were nervous after hearing about the attack.
Some had not heard of the incident until they arrived, including Caren Pierni of Derry. She was with her grandchildren, 8-month-old Stella and 15-month-old Miller.
Pierni kept a close eye on the children, not convinced the park was completely safe.
“If there is one fox, there is another one,” she said. “I would have never come.”
Nancy Harper, 44, of Derry didn’t hear about the attack until she was getting ready to go to the park.
But she came prepared — carrying a large snow brush to ward any aggressive animals. She was ready to use whatever was necessary to protect her 4-year-old daughter, Madison.
“It was in my truck,” she said of the snow brush. “And I have hairspray in my pocket. It is crazy — this park is usually protected. I just said, ‘If there are any doggies in the park, don’t touch them.’”
Harper said her family had to undergo a series of rabies vaccinations after they encountered a bat in their home. She said she didn’t want to take any chances this time.
“I’m probably going to pick up some pepper spray,” Harper said.
Thomas said his department receives numerous reports of sick wildlife each year, but only two or three end up being rabies cases. This was first incident he recalled where a person was bitten by a rabid animal.
Many of the cases involve raccoons, but some involve skunks and foxes, he said.
“Rabies is an issue not only in Derry, but everywhere,” Thomas said.
Mathewson said rabid animals are a problem across New Hampshire. From 2009 to 2013, 137 animals tested positive for rabies in the Granite State, including 30 last year, she said.
Five of those 30 animals were foxes, but raccoons pose the biggest problem, Mathewson said.
“Raccoons are by far one of the most problematic animals,” she said.
Derry police urge anyone who sees an animal that is believed to be sick or aggressive to contact the animal control office at 432-6143.