Fox death: Critic saddened as rabies test inconclusive
It turns out that the little grey fox captured and sacrified for a rabies test died in vain, as the test that claimed its life appears, according to published statements from a health official, unable to provide a clean bill of health.
"It was a decision that was not really made rationally," says local wildlife author Marlene Condon. "Just because it was the first fox to get into that cage doesn't mean you can condemn to death without having good reason to do so."
Statements by Dr. Lilian Peake, director of the state Health Department's Thomas Jefferson District, indeed suggest that if the test were to help the bite victims or provide firm evidence about the absence of rabies, than it was as doomed as the captured animal.
Peake was quoted in a Daily Progress story after the fox's death as saying that although the test returned negative for rabies, the result might simply mean that the disease hadn't yet reached the brain. And because officials don't now how long rabies takes to reach the brain, presumably the bite victims, who have not been publicly identified, can't come off their painful and expensive battery of preventive shots.
"There was no valid reason to test that fox," says Condon. "I think the reason they wanted to test it was to make it look like they were doing something to protect the community."
Critics point to the fox's grey color–- the fox accused of attacking two students and stealing a sweater was reportedly red–- and healthy demeanor as signs that it was not carrying rabies. Peake, however, told the Progress that "dumb rabies" can cause an animal to act passive and meek.
"I know they talk about some animals being docile with rabies," says Condon, "but I still think that when an animal is sick, it doesn't have the energy to take care of itself properly."
After getting taken to the local SPCA and later euthanized, the fox was sent to the state's Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services in Richmond, where the inconclusive test was conducted. In the Progess article, Peake dismissed as too risky the possibility of simply quarantining the animal for observation. Animals infected with rabies inevitably die within days.
While UVA has made the decision to remove the traps from the Lambeth Field area, Condon encourages the community to demand more wildlife education in order to prevent future killings.
"I think a lesson that could come from this is that it would be a good thing in our schools–- even at the college level–- for people to get an introduction to wildlife."
Neither Peake nor the SPCA returned phone calls on Thursday, September 10.