John Compagna tells the story of his encounter with a fox outside his home on Tuesday in Farmingdale. He killed the attacking fox that is being tested for rabies. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

FARMINGDALE — John Compagna had just returned from taking his six-year-old grandson to school Tuesday morning when he began to walk into his home at 174 Ryder Road. He took two or three steps, feeling a tug at his pants.

“When I came back, I kept feeling something tugging my pants in back of me,” he said. “I have three little dogs which sometimes get loose from the fence and it felt just like that.”

“I took two or three steps and I looked down and saw it wasn’t a dog, it was the fox,” he added.

Compagna told the Kennebec Journal that he kicked the fox away two or three times before reaching for a plastic shovel at the foot of his front steps to defend himself. He said he moved the shovel after deciding to clean snow off his front steps, a seemingly inconsequential move that he later called “a blessing.”

“There was just a little bit of snow on my steps,” he said. “I said ‘I’ll clean it later,’ so I took the shovel and put it at the foot of the steps, which I never do.”

He used the side of the shovel, which is a little stronger than the edge, to bludgeon the gray fox to death. When asked how many times he hit the fox with the shovel, he said enough to make sure “it wasn’t moving anymore.” Compagna said he put the fox’s corpse in two plastic bags and the warden that responded to the call took it to be tested for rabies.

He was not injured during the attack, as none of the bites penetrated his pants far enough to break the skin. But Compagna said he was thankful that his grandson wasn’t with him, because the child may not have known how to defend himself from the fox.

Fox attacks have been prominent in Maine news in the last couple of years. The Times Record reported last week that 88-year-old Norman Kenney was attacked by two rabid foxes in the space of four months, strangling one to death that attacked him earlier this month at his Bath home.

Compagna said the fox had porcupine quills in its mouth, which he was told by a game warden is a telltale sign of rabies. He said it must have come from a wooded area just across the street from his house. He said he sees foxes around his property “once in a while.”

“I didn’t see it crossing the road or nothing,” Compagna said. “It just came at me.”

According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, only one gray fox was found to be rabid in Kennebec County in 2019. A total of 89 animals tested positive for rabies statewide in 2019, including nine animals — a fox, two bats, four raccoons and two skunks — in Kennebec County in 2019. In 2020, two foxes, in Bath and West Bath, have tested positive for rabies.

Shevenell Webb, a furbearer and small mammal biologist at the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said those annual figures are generally normal. She said cases with gray foxes have increased recently, which could be because higher populations of the animals are living closer to populations of humans.

“Rabies is a disease that ebbs and flows,” she said. “We tend to see it increase in some areas and decrease in some areas. This is something that’s not going to stay high in (the Bath area) forever.”

Webb said the risk of interacting with a rabies-infected animal is still low, so area residents should not be dissuaded from spending time outdoors. She said animals should be vaccinated against the disease and people should never feed their animals outside and secure any potential food sources, like garbage or compost, so critters can’t become accustomed to using them.

“A good rule of thumb is never to approach wildlife and people should not feed wildlife,” she said, adding that people should report any strange looking animals to the appropriate authorities.

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