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Rural Alaska

Southwest Alaska village ‘on edge’ after fox and dog test positive for rabies

A Southwest Alaska village has warned residents it is shooting stray dogs after a dog and a fox tested positive for the deadly rabies disease.

The mayor's fox-bitten dog needed to be killed after it showed signs of rabies.

Adding to the concerns are stories of increasingly aggressive foxes in Marshall and other villages. It appears to be a strong year for the fox population, a state biologist said.

Marshall Mayor Joseph Fitka said his 3-year-old daughter's Lab-husky mix, Pubby, was bitten by a fox in late April. The fox had sprung onto the family's porch and was fighting Pubby for food.

"We've become accustomed to fox on the outskirts of town, but they would usually stay on the outskirts of town," Fitka said.

Within days, Pubby began showing signs of rabies, foaming at the mouth, staggering and not responding when called, Fitka said.

"It had to be put down," he said.

His family, including his four children, got rabies vaccination shots just in case, he said.

"We're OK," he said. "It was precautionary, because once anyone shows signs of rabies, it's already too late."

The disease is almost always fatal in humans or other animals once symptoms appear, which can happen within days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Monday, the state confirmed a dog and fox from Marshall had contracted rabies, said Louisa Castrodale, a state epidemiologist. It's typical to have some cases each year, she said.

"There's been activity this year," but it's in line with past years, she said.

Nick Andrew Jr., administrator for the Native Village of Marshall, a tribal government, issued a "Rabies Alert" on Tuesday on Facebook warning that patrollers with the city will shoot loose dogs.

"As a safety precaution, Marshall parents please warn your children to stay away from all chained or stray dogs including puppies," read the post, mistakenly noting two dogs had tested positive.

"We are on edge," Andrew said Thursday. The village of 450 is about 400 miles west of Anchorage.

*RABIES ALERT FOR THE COMMUNITY OF MARSHALL* On June 1, 2018 two dogs sent in for testing tested positive for rabies by...

Posted by Nick P Andrew Jr. on Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The city government's animal control officer has shot and killed three stray dogs, Fitka said.

"We're trying to reduce the risk to anyone or any child," Fitka said.

Phillip Perry, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Bethel, an administrative and shopping hub for the region, said rabies-infected foxes are nothing new in villages.

But fox numbers appear to be high this year, perhaps because last summer and fall the rodents they eat also had a strong year, he said.

Foxes are usually elusive, visible to humans in late evening or morning. If they're not cautious, it's a cause for concern, he said.

"They should be wary around people," he said. "When you see a fox at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, it should warn you it's not right. But the hard thing is, in communities they are habituated to people very easily."

Perry said Marshall shoots stray dogs because of the dangers of the disease to humans, and because there are no veterinarians in the village to euthanize the dogs with drugs.

Other villages in the region are also struggling to control the animals.

Victor Tonuchuk, the environmental coordinator in Kotlik, said village officers this spring shot foxes that had come into the village and were suspected of having rabies.

Walton Smith, the city manager in St. Marys, said foxes are far more prevalent than they used to be.

A resident shot one about a week ago, he said. Another was seen biting the doorknob to a building. Some have tested positive for rabies over the last couple of years.

"People are concerned about it," he said. "In general if I see one and I have a gun — and those two things don't happen often at the same time — I shoot them."

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