Fox death: Critic saddened as rabies test inconclusive

news-fox-lambethUVA's Lambeth Field area was the site of the aggressive fox attacks on August 26.
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER

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.

35 comments

The SPCA should have taken the fox to the Wildlife Center. Personally, I would have felt much better about the W. L Center making the decision with regard to this wild animal. The science here may be inconclusive, but there is no excuse for random trapping, as certainly happened. Why stop at trapping just one fox without a sweater? Dr. Peake and the public have gained no real answers. So what was the point? "The point" appears to be following vague policy or backward science and playing along with the politics at hand. "Something like, ok guys, we'll catch one, test it, and the public will just dumb out, get off our backs and shut up." Sorry, didn't work!

thank you Cville eye! sounds to me like Dr. Peake was in the uneviable position of making the call and was willing to do so in the name of public safety.

as for Marlene Condon's views, I agree with them and respect her opinion, but maybe she should be cited as a wildlife ADVOCATE for the sake of perspective? my guess is that many in the Wildlife Center and vets support Dr. Peake's decision, but certainly would not have liked to have had to make it!

Unfortunately, there is and was, a real collective failure as the authorities and "apppointed powers that be" floundered horribly during the process. Folks, it all comes down to politics here. One little fox was inappropriately captured and targeted, and all for show. Nothing was solved in the process. In fact much harm was done. The NO KILL SPCA had a perfect opportunity to advocate for the shy animal, but instead caved with the flow. Has anyone in the media asked Ed Clark (Wildlife Center) to chime in? I would hope would advocate for observation verses murder. I do also respect Condon's opinion and thank her for contributing.

I would like to invite anyone who wants to learn more about wildlife (and yours truly!) to come to my talk on Oct. 13 at 7 PM at City Space. Sincerely, Marlene

In addition to offering education for members of the public, I would suggest sponsoring a major informational inservice for the collective agencies involved here. Why should we trust the local health dept. knows all? For example, it is our own local health dept. which allowed young children in a local public school, the Stone Robinson school, to drink water tainted with petroleum for years,before stepping up to the plate to properly test and remediate, as parents demanded action.

@foxtrot

you said "my guess is that many in the Wildlife Center and vets support Dr. Peake’s decision"

Really? What are you basing your guess on? Certainly not common sense. MY guess is that many in the wildlife center did not support this decision. Have you all forgotten that the fox that was trapped was not the offending red fox that started all of this? The chances of catching that fox were very slim right from the beginning. Peake made a stupid decision that accomplished absolutely nothing.

Dr Peake is a bureaucrat. That's all you need to know. Bureaucrats don't make decisions based on sound data, ethics (god forbid!), or intelligence. Their decision-making is entirely formed by a combination of political expediency and smoke & mirrors.

It probably went down something like this...
Easiest route: Kill the fox and have it tested even though you know there's only the merest whisper of a chance that it's rabid. It's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed appearance tells you this, but what the heck, off with its head!
Benefits: Makes Dr Peake seem like a bad-ass to 14-year-old boys.
Negatives: Fox life lost in vain, and everybody that's not a 14-year-old boy kinda hates you.

Slightly more difficult route, requiring a little bit of planning: Hold the fox for observation. When it shows no sign of rabies, and it's alternating between being bored to tears and frantic to be released from its cage, then release it back into the wild. No harm, no foul.
Benefits: Fox lives, Dr Peake hailed as humanitarian.
Negatives: Someone had to do a little planning, and that's SO incredibly tiring.

And it's decapitation for the WIN!

No where in this article does the spokesman for the Wildlife Center of VA suggests that the fox should have been turned over to that organization: http://www.officer.com/web/online/Top-News-Stories/Fox-Bites-Two-People--Steals-Sweater/1$48150. If fact Ed Clark of the Wildlife Center of VA leaves me to infer if they thought this was the fox doing the biting it should be treated as rabid."That's not to say this fox doesn't have a problem," Clark said. "It's unusual for a fox to act aggressively to people under any circumstance. Although it's a bit late in the year to have small kits [babies], there is a possibility that the fox is protecting its territory. It's important to remember that, when we're talking about any chance of rabies, the benefit of the doubt has to go in favor of assuming the worst." He also said that there's no way to definitely identify the fox unless it was wearing the sweater.
As far as the color, everytime I see one I think its red because the only fox I know. Eye witnesses are not always correct.
Maybe somebody should email the center and ask if they recommend that the fox should have been brought to them.

Mr/Mrs/Miss Get some better sources, Marlene seems to have been the only person involved in the entire process that exercised any common sense with her suggestions or thoughts.

And I still want to know how much it cost to capture and kill an innocent fox who doesn't seem to have committed any offense against humanity. I'm sure it was a rather expensive "show" that was put on for the public.

"Dumb rabies", was not the only dumb idea in the case of the innocent murdered fox. How can the test results be judged to be inconclusive when they have a whole fox brain to examine? Either the brain is clear of disease or not. Stands to reason if the fox is acting aggressive then the infection has spread to the brain. Sounds like a bogus cop out to me. I sure feel for the foxes pups. If UVA will allow the fox hunt clubs to gallop around on campus they could solve their fox problem.

Well I think that perhaps peta should petition the univrsity for equal rights for all animals. how come my dog can't poop on the grounds but all the foxes can? Why is my dog required to be on a leash and have a rabies shot but the fox isn't? After all fair is fair.

Also, my dogs ancestors were enslvaved and still are in amny places while the foxes are free. My dog wants reperations.

Ms. Peake's desperate attempts to justify a pointless and politically motivated act reveal a serious lack of reasoned thinking and judgement in addressing this incident. Why does this woman have any decision making authority at all? Virginia state law gives health departments the option of confining potentially rabid animals (both domestic and wild) for observation. This process is followed in the case of potentially rabid dogs and cats all the time. The legislators would not have provided localities with this option if it was not an appropriate way to address a potential rabies outbreak.

Her comments regarding the "dumb" form of rabies are extremely misleading, again showing a desperate attempt to justify a stupid political decision. There are not different "forms" of rabies. What she refers to is the end stage of the disease, when paralysis occurs. The "furious" stage is the penultimate stage, when animals may (and usually do) exhibit aggressive behavior and will try to spread the virus. This stage can last for one to seven days. The final, or "dumb" phase only lasts for a couple of days. Most rabid animals exhibit symptoms during both stages of the disease. If, in fact, the bright eyed, healthy looking fox Ms. Peake ordered to be killed was in the paralytic phase of the disease, he or she would have expired within a few days, hardly an onerous or difficult confinement period.

I hope this ridiculous and sad spectacle will prompt the local authorities to think more carefully before making decisions that cost innocent animals their lives. Their focus should now be on public education. Offering low cost rabies vaccination clinics for domestic animals would also be a logical course of action.

Thanks to wblake and others for their well-reasoned arguments. I call on Dr Peake to either explain her actions fully, or step down. Either she's stunningly ignorant about the disease of rabies, or she's allowing herself to led around by the nose by other ignorant people.

I honestly wonder if Dr Peake should be in charge of the care of the sick citizens of our area. And shame on the SPCA for allowing themselves to be dragged into this. Whatever happened to the honorable notion of "Above All, Do No Harm?"

The nonprogressive, so so Health Department, residing within the shadow of UVA, does ok controlling the common cold and passing out condoms. When it comes to handling challenging missions, they sport a poor record. I know of a local individual who recently died of a rare form of cancer. The deceased's family discovered after the passing, the property was surrounded by underground fuel plumes, known to local authorities. No one had ever made the effort to inform the family of nearby underground contamination issues that may affect the private well. The health department also turns a blind eye as individuals mishandle asbestos products on private properties,especially as those homeowners choose to remove the dangerous substances for themselves. Fuel in the underground aquafers, asbestos in the wind. Very little regulation originates from the local department of health. Where is the preventative stance? This situation with regard to the fox, called for some "thinking out of the box". I'm happy the crafty little fox with the sweater had the smarts to outwit them all.

Fox on the front page . wow , big town of hillsville va

I would think the two people who were bitten would have been close enough to the fox to know whether it was red or grey, unless they have vision problems. I have seen a lot of foxes around town at night, and I can usually tell if they are grey or red, even in the semi-dark. The grey fox trapped at Lambeth was obviously not the same fox who bit the people.

"All other animals [not dogs, cats, or ferrets]: All other animals that expose humans should be reported to the local health department immediately. No observation periods have been established for such animals (including wolf hybrids). If the animal is available, laboratory testing may be indicated depending upon the circumstances of the exposure (such as whether it was provoked or not) and the species involved. The risks associated with different animals varies from place to place. (See Epidemiology.) The local health department, with the assistance of the Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section, will determine whether testing is appropriate."
http://www.nwcphp.org/docs/rabies/evaluating.html

i know he was caught because there was/is a rabid fox on the loose, but poor fox :-(

Sparky,
Based on the Albemarle's voting record on dog barking i would say 'Humans are more important than animals.' is NOT true in Albemarle. However, Greene county is more in tune to humans based on their 20 minute barking rule and no landownership loophole. To think Greene up one over the high and mighty and high priced Albemarle.

As for the fox, it was bad luck for it to become a victim of a worthless test. That is what i would be more outraged about! INCONCLUSIVE MY ARSE!!!

@cville

And, according to our very own rabies expert Lillian Peake, negative test results on dead animals are also inconclusive ....hmmmm.

Yes, it seems, other than with common pets, they have no idea how long it takes for the antibodies to show up in the brain for most animals. Maybe it takes two to three weeks for foxes. Of course it is not recommended to quarantine any animals but dogs, cats, and ferrets is the way I read the policy.

Thank god for the wildlife! The presence of a fox means cville has not completely turned into a wasteland of strip malls, parking lots, gigantic stadiums, sludge filled water supplies, traffic choked roads, and trendy "wahoos". I wonder if the animal had been a coyote, not a cute little walt disney fox, would there have been any problem killing it?? Well we will probably see that scenario in cville and the reaction to it sometime soon.

Well, I'm expecting ED CLARK to step up and defend my donations!!

Cville eye is the only person making valid, non-ranting comments here, and has officially destroyed all other agruments presented. Everyone always thinks they KNOW the details without ever looking into it. As for my earlier comment, i would add that I doubt many vets/wildlife center staff like what happened, but that they would have done the same thing if forced into a decision

I don't care about a fox. Kill a few more. Humans are more important than animals. Sorry.

@Friend to ALL Animals, you talk as if you're intimately involved in this incident. How much experience have you had with rabid foxes and how familiar are you with the inner workings of the Wildlife Center VA and the health department? You seem to have more definites than the work who work in this area professionally ("The original fox, if rabid, was most likely dead by the time this fox was trapped.").

Sparky, most humans may be more important than animals but not all. I like your handle because it reminds me of the name of the electric chair in Florida that is no longer used unfortunately for the humans that are less important than animals. I would add that a human is an animal and soon there will be 7 billion on this planet. Give me a whale or mountain gorilla or polar bear over the worst human any day.

Why does the Hook continue to quote Marlene Condon as if she is some sort of an expert? "Wildlife author"? She wrote a book about not using pesticides in your garden! Maybe it's because real biologists have bigger concerns than a single fox in an urban area... If so, then why not interview someone from somewhere like PETA; that way it would be clear to everyone that you are using a bleeding heart source rather than pretending you are using an expert. Just because she has an opinion doesn't mean she should always be quoted on it.

And yes, it was pointless to kill the fox. I'd just like to see some better "reporting"

"There are currently no satisfactory tests for diagnosing rabies in live animals. All give an unacceptable number of false-negative results." http://www.nwcphp.org/docs/rabies/evaluating.html

Don't argue with me, argue with the people who say otherwise after studying the accuracy of witnesses in their courtroom testimony. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyewitness_identification
Just shows that what people would think is often not true.

@Cville Eye, there's no way that the trapped fox was the sweater-stealing fox due to the length of time that expired between the initial incidents and this particular HEALTHY fox being trapped. The original fox, if rabid, was most likely dead by the time this fox was trapped. If not dead, it was in such a state of advanced respiratory failure that it couldn't have even dragged itself into the trap. Food would have been the very last thing on its mind.

Ed Clark has never commented on the trapped fox. He merely speculated about the original fox when asked to by a reporter. This all took place well before the grey fox was trapped.

County Farmer, your comment is awesome. I agree 100%. Actually, most humans suck.

@cville eye, actually I do happen to know a lot about animals, domestic and wild, rabid and otherwise. I've encountered and observed rabid animals-- most likely more than Dr Peake has. I'm well acquainted with the symptoms of rabies, and the many ways it can presents in the patient. The chance that the original fox (who was presumably rabid, or possibly the victim of a neurological disorder that mimics rabies), and the trapped fox were one in the same was so minuscule that euthanasia in lieu of observation was a senseless approach.

@foxtrot. Cut the drama-- nobody was "forced" to make that decision. There's "ranting" going on here because people are disgusted at the way this thing was handled. The fact that you clearly don't understand exactly why immediate euthanasia was senseless demonstrates that you don't know very much about rabies and its progression.

The truth is, neither of you has any idea who is posting here, nor do you have a clue about their experiences or qualifications.

Cville Eye, do you have an alter ego named foxtrot?

No one has done anything other than express opinions here. Not even expert opinions, so chill out.

I still think someone who has been bitten by a fox would know whether it was red or grey unless he or she can't see too well to begin with. Your wikipedia link isn't really relevant here. There was more than one "eye witness." The two victims were probably not asked to describe the fox's facial characteristics or pick the culprit out of a line-up of different foxes. Rather, they were probably asked "What color was the fox?" Both bite victims apparently saw the fox, and the news reports indicate there were other people present. Are you really suggesting that every single person present would have been incapable of remembering whether the fox was red or grey, even though they watched the fox grab and run off with someone's sweater?

Also, you're still ignoring the very low probability that the red fox who bit the people, if indeed rabid, would have ever gone into a trap. ââ?¬Å?Trapping to control rabies is considered to be an exercise in futility in the face of a rabies outbreak, because the disease itself will limit the population, and clinically rabid animals are rarely caught in traps." (Rabies Control in Wildlife, 1983).