A rabies-infected fox bit a Tonto Basin hunter four times Saturday morning before the man strangled the animal with his bare hands.
The man, who was not identified by Gila County Animal Control officials, had been hunting for deer approximately two miles north of Rye between the north- and southbound lanes of Highway 87.
After the incident, the victim drove himself to Payson Regional Medical Center for treatment, then turned the animal's carcass over to Animal Control Officer Mike Spaulding for rabies testing in the Valley.
Test results came back positive Monday afternoon.
As the man was hunting, Spaulding said, "He found an area where it looked like one animal had dragged another into the brush. He went down into the brush, and the next thing he knew, he felt a bite on the back of his leg, on his left thigh."
Although the fox attempted to hang on, the hunter knocked the animal loose, Spaulding said. But before the man had the opportunity to aim his rifle, the fox sunk its teeth into his other leg.
"He knocked it down again, and then the fox bit him on the ankle," Spaulding said. "At one point, the man was able to fire a round in the air, but that didn't scare it off and he ended up getting bitten a fourth time."
The man was finally able to remove the fox from his leg and pin it on the ground with the butt of his rifle.
"At that point, he strangled it by hand," Spaulding said. "Then he finished it off with a rock."
Spaulding drove the dead fox to the Valley for rabies testing.
Another fox, also thought to have been rabid, was killed in west Payson midday Monday by Gila County Animal Control Officer Ty Goodman.
"We don't know the (test) results yet, but I'm sure it was rabid; it was running around under a trailer, squealing," Goodman said. "But at least it didn't bite anyone."
Residents of the area just west of the Northern Gila County Sanitary District called animal control officers to report that a fox was fighting with a dog.
"We're not sure if the dog was bitten, so we'll have to keep it in custody until we find out if the fox was rabid," Goodman said. "As far as we know, the dog is not up to date on its rabies (shots)."
Rabies is a viral disease which attacks the central nervous system of its victims, and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. The virus can be transmitted through bites from infected animals or through saliva exposure to open wounds or mucous membranes.
The last rabies death in Arizona occurred in 1981.
To better assist residents in minimizing their risk for rabies, here are a few protection tips:
All dogs and cats are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies at the age of four months and vaccinations must be kept current for the life of the animal.
Dogs are required by law to be physically restrained to the owner's property by fence or leash. Roaming pets are more likely to be exposed to rabies without the owner's knowledge.
Make sure your dog or cat wears its animal license/rabies tag at all times so that the vaccination status and owner can be easily established.
Do not keep wild animals as pets. Even a raccoon or skunk born and raised in captivity can be a rabies carrier. Further, the keeping of wild animals as pets is illegal in the state of Arizona without the proper permits.
Do not approach or handle any wild animals. Almost any animal will attack if cornered or threatened. Avoid wild animals even if they appear healthy or friendly. If you find an animal that may be sick or injured, contact animal control.
Make your house and yard unattractive to wild animals. Feed pets inside when possible, if fed outside remove uneaten food promptly; keep trash cans tightly covered; cap chimneys; and seal off any openings in attics, under porches, in basements, or outbuildings.
Teach children not to approach strange dogs, cats or other animals and to report any bite, scratch or contact with any animal.
If your dog, cat or other animal has been bitten or attacked by a raccoon or other wild animal or stray, report the incident to animal control so that appropriate action can be taken.