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Rabid fox attacks boy, stepfather in their yard

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000


TAMPA -- Still wearing boxer shorts, 12-year-old Aaron Alexia stumbled to the garage of his Citrus Park home about 6:45 a.m. Monday to get his laundry out of the dryer.

He wasn't surprised to see a small fox in his yard, which is surrounded by 3 acres of woods.

Then the fox moved toward him.

Worried that the bold fox might attack his cat, Aaron got his BB gun and took a few shots, hoping to scare the animal away. Instead, it fought back.

"It attacked him. It backed him up against the garage and was biting him all over," said Shawn Meagher, Aaron's stepfather. "He's a tough kid, and he was screaming like crazy. The screaming woke us up, and we ran outside to see the fox just going at him."

Meagher, 28, hit the fox with a shovel until it ran under the house. Then he grabbed Aaron and took him to a car in the driveway and examined his wounds. Given Aaron's screams and the amount of blood, he thought the boy was badly hurt.

"While I'm checking on him, the fox runs back out and bites me on the foot," Meagher said. "It just kept coming."

While his wife stood on the porch screaming, Meagher said, he beat the fox off with the BB gun, breaking the weapon in the process. It scurried a few feet away and lay down, exhausted and injured.

Carole Meagher called Hillsborough County Animal Control, and several employees of the Meaghers, who run Gemini Landscaping from their home at 12802 Citrus Park, began to show up for work.

Meagher and five of his landscapers stood out in the yard and watched the fox to make sure it didn't run away until an animal control officer arrived.

"It was still acting really, really strange," Meagher said. "It wasn't foaming at the mouth, but every few minutes it would jump up and run around a little bit, like it was still trying to get at us."

Meagher said county officials told him later Monday that the fox tested positive for rabies, so he and Aaron both face rounds of rabies shots. The family will have to pay a total of $2,500 for the rounds of shots, seven each for father and son, because they don't have health insurance, Meagher said.

"We're told they don't hurt as bad as they used to," Meagher said. "You get them in the butt and then the arm, instead of the belly button."

Still, the pain of the shots is better than the alternative. Rabies is fatal if untreated.

Rabid animals lose their fear of humans and attack without provocation.

In April 1999, an elderly Hernando County woman was attacked by a 15-pound fox in her yard and struggled with it for more than 12 hours before she was rescued. A few weeks later, Lucy Dover, 79, died. Family members said she never recovered from the trauma of the attack.

Meagher said he was actually glad the rabid fox attacked when it did. Had the fox appeared later in the day when he would be busy at work, it might have attacked his wife or his 3-year-old daughter, Christina.

"Her swing set is right next to where he ran under the house," Meagher said. "So if it was going to bite somebody, I'm glad it's us and not her. We can take it."

- Angela Moore can be reached at 813-226-3373 or at amoore@sptimes.com.

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