Tuesday March 15, 2011

BENNINGTON -- An East Street man said he was minding his own business and shoveling snow away from the side of his house when he was attacked.

"All of a sudden I felt something on my back and shoulders, scratching," said Kevin McDonald, of 15 East St.

It was a gray squirrel, said McDonald. He threw the animal off, but twice it jumped back onto his arms, delivering more scratches. Finally, it ran up a tree and McDonald retreated to his house.

"The first thing that goes through your mind is ‘is it rabid?’" he said. After doing some research into the matter on the Internet, McDonald said he learned bites are the real concern with rabies infection, and squirrel attacks are quite rare.

Which is why he was surprised the next day, when his wife reported hearing yelling from across the street. He said he looked to see his neighbor with a blanket and a metal pole battling a gray squirrel not unlike the one that attacked him the day before. Later, he would learn that a woman on the same street had also been attacked.

While the incident is on the amusing side of the spectrum for him, McDonald said it was a bit eerie to have the squirrel not only jump him, but jump back onto him after being thrown off.

"I thought it was funny until I learned of two other people being attacked; then I thought it should be taken a little more seriously," he said.

Local Game Warden Travis Buttle said he’s spoken to two people on East Street, but not McDonald, about the attacking squirrel. He said one woman was bitten on the back of the neck, and under advice of her doctor is undergoing a rabies vaccination series.

He said there isn’t much he can do unless someone manages to contain the squirrel, say in a garage or a shed. To test for rabies the animal has to be captured and destroyed. Buttle advised anyone attacked by a squirrel, or any animal, to talk to their doctor and follow the advice given.

If the squirrel was rabid, Buttle said, it would likely have died of the disease by now. The disease, which affects the brains of mammals, causes them to behave oddly and in some cases aggressively. Buttle said that normally he would try to track an animal suspected of rabies, but when he got the calls on the squirrel he was two hours away and the victims reported the animal had disappeared almost immediately.

Buttle said these cases are unusual because the attacks appear to be unprovoked.