A family’s Sunday morning routine getting ready to leave for church was interrupted Augusta County when a fox attacked a 7-year-old on May 10.
Tiffany Brown was changing her youngest son’s diaper inside their home in the Hildebrand Church Road area of the county.
“I told the older three to get in the car,” said Tiffany Brown of her 9-year-old, 7-year-old and 3-year-old sons.
Before she knew it, the three boys came running back into the house crying and covered in blood.
Tiffany Brown said the boys told her that as they went to the family car the 7-year-old, who is autistic, saw a fox near the car. The fox hissed at him, then ran and bit the boy.
The boys jumped into the car, and the fox followed and continued to attack the 7-year-old.
The fox bit his finger “and would not let go” until his older brother fought the fox off of him with a squeegee.
Tiffany Brown said she and her sons hurried to Augusta Health where it was determined the 7-year-old was bitten seven times. He was given antibiotics and rabies shots.
On Wednesday morning, the family was notified by the health department that the fox tested positive for rabies. The positive result means that Tiffany Brown and her 9-year-old son must also undergo rabies shots because they were in contact with the 7-year-old’s wounds.
The family physician on Monday, however, found 10 bites, and one was infected. The family was told if the infected wound was not better by Wednesday he would have to be admitted to the hospital for further treatment.
“I’m very proud of my 9-year-old who fought off the fox,” Tiffany Brown said.
She said her 7-year-old son has been tough throughout the situation.
“We’re very thankful that it could have been worse,” she said.
The family is thankful that “God was watching out and it wasn’t worse,” Tiffany Brown said.
Tiffany Brown’s father came to their house to find the fox Sunday after his daughter and grandsons went to the hospital. The fox chased him back to his truck.
Husband Aaron Brown said he called 911 after his son was taken to the hospital.
“I called 911 just because I didn’t know who to call,” said Aaron Brown.
The dispatch responder told him to call the conservation police, but 45 minutes went by and nobody came to help find the fox who had attacked his son.
So Aaron Brown said he called the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, who told him to shoot the fox or call a local trapper.
Aaron Brown said that he thought the department would send someone to track and trap the fox.
“You think they would have come out immediately,” he said.
After church, Aaron Brown said he found the fox, which he identified because its tail had no hair just as his sons and father-in-law had described. He found the fox’s den 40 or 50 feet from where it had attacked his son.
“And [I] shot it in its den,” he said. As it entered its den, he shot it in the rear and when it turned around he shot the fox’s chest and killed it.
Aaron Brown said that perhaps the fox’s tail was bare because it had been injured. He said he checked its den for cubs but found none. Perhaps the fox was pregnant.
“I’m very proud of [my 9-year-old son],” Aaron Brown said.
He said his son, although usually inclined to panic, did not think twice about defending his younger brother. Both boys are students at Hugh K. Cassell Elementary School.
“I just want knowledge brought to this,” said Darlene Brown of Crozet, who is the boys’ grandmother.
She said she hopes that other families will become educated by what her son, daughter-in-law and grandsons experienced.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Candy Hensley, assistant to the Augusta County Administrator, of what happened to the Brown family.
Augusta County Animal Control has three officers, according to Hensley, who work under the county administrator’s office, not the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office.
“That’s unique to our area, but not unique to the state,” Hensley said.
In the city of Waynesboro, animal control is under the Waynesboro Police Department.
Hensley said the county does not have many cases of rabid animal bites, however, in the case of an animal bite residents are encouraged to call Augusta County Animal Control, which is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, but will respond to emergency calls between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Normally, Augusta County Animal Control does not handle wildlife, only domestic animals.
Unless a “bonafide emergency,” Hensley said animal control in Augusta County does not handle cases with foxes, opossums, skunks and other wild animals.
Augusta County Animal Control will respond to a call if an individual has been bitten or is in the process of being bit by an animal.
“We will go out in an emergency situation like the one with the Brown [family],” Hensley said.
However, on Sunday, Tiffany Brown was on her way to Augusta Health with her 7-year-old son when her husband, Aaron, called 911, so he was referred to Game and Inland Fisheries to track and obtain the animal that bit his son.
Hensley said that on the county’s web site, the animal control page provides information for residents on how to handle unwanted or nuisance animals, including a number for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
When an individual is bitten by an animal, Hensley said it is important that the animal is obtained for testing.
She encouraged county residents to call 911 and ask for assistance in such a situation.
“So, we can get the proper help,” Hensley said. “That’s the most important thing.”
The Central Shenandoah Health District said Wednesday that the fox "no longer poses a threat, but any human or animal that may have been exposed to the fox's saliva would be considered a potential exposure and should receive medical evaluation."
According to the health department, rabies is fatal to animals and humans once symptoms begin. However, it can be prevented in humans if they receive vaccine and medication soon after exposure.