Tragic twist in the baby-fox-rescue story we reported yesterday. (To review: Volunteer firefighters in Harford County responding to an emergency call in Edgewood Tuesday night saved a small fox trapped in a storm drain. The fox was taken to Chadwell Animal Hospital Wednesday morning, and Phoenix Wildlife Center welcomed the fox once he was stable.) Thoughtful reader “Jeremy” posted this comment yesterday afternoon: “The firefighters should be commended for showing such kindness, but this is far from a cute story now that the Harford County Health Department ordered the fox pup to be euthanized and tested for rabies just because an unknowing kind firefighter touched the pup without gloves. This unfortunately is the reality of what happens if you innocently touch foxes or raccoon babies and Maryland DNR or a health department finds out. So let’s all learn from this and make sure this poor little baby fox did not die without something important being learned.”
Heartbroken, I called the fire station; volunteers hadn’t heard a word. I followed up with Chadwell to confirm that the fox was indeed euthanized, which is sadly true. I contacted David Reiher, Harford County Health Department Rabies and Vector Control Program Coordinator, who declined to comment but sent an official statement via Public Information Officer William Wiseman.
“When there is confirmed contact and the vector species is available for testing, the protocol is to euthanize the animal and submit it to the State Laboratory at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for rabies analysis. The greater concern, in incidents such as this, is less about the animal than for public health and safety. If this fox is determined to be rabid the Harford County Health Department will conduct risk assessments of all firefighters that possibly had contact. Although it appears that none of the volunteer fire fighters was bitten or scratched, a slight risk of exposure from touching or handling an animal that is rabid still exists…
The Health Department has partnered with the Joppa-Magnolia Fire Department for over 30 years to provide low cost rabies vaccination and their clinic routinely vaccinates the greatest number of animals. The Department wishes to reiterate how cooperative and enjoyable this relationship with them is, and to acknowledge their great dedication to the well-being of the community. However, for the protection of all concerned, it is best for wildlife professionals to handle these situations. If their staff were to engage in this sort of activity in the future, the Health Department recommends limiting the handling of the animal to one individual wearing heavy turn-out gear to protect against direct contact, and that the animal is isolated from exposure to other people and animals until secured.”
It’s important to note additionally that when the fox was collected from the Phoenix Wildlife Center at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the wildlife rehabilitator informed the health department representative that the animal was suffering from hydrocephaly, also known as water on the brain. This condition caused the fox to suffer and to cry out. Such a significant health problem is not curable but can be managed in certain cases. The fox’s mother may have abandoned him because he was not well. In a follow-up email this afternoon, Mr. Wiseman of Harford County Health informed me that “the wildlife rehabilitator indicated…[the fox] would have been euthanized regardless,” due to the hydrocephaly.
I’m fighting a lump in my throat as I fill you in. The fox’s fast death seems unfair, especially since he didn’t scratch or bite anyone; his luck seems impossibly cruel. I do think Jeremy our reader is right, and philosophical in the face of this bad scenario: “Let’s all learn from this and make sure this poor little baby fox did not die without something important being learned.”