Bulloch County Humane Enforcement officers have fielded several calls recently about foxes that appear ill, and supervisor Joey Sanders reminds citizens that rabies has been documented in the area in the past.
Citizens near the Merrywood subdivision have complained about a fox that appears to be suffering from mange, and residents around the Huntington subdivision have reported foxes eating pet food, he said.
While no confirmed cases of rabies have been reported in Bulloch County this year, a fox with rabies attacked a woman last fall outside her home in the Flemington Woods subdivision in southeastern Bulloch County, near Ellabell.
Sanders said he and his humane enforcement officers have picked up foxes this year that seemed to be sick and might have had rabies, but because they had not bitten anyone, they were destroyed without testing. There is no need to test an animal unless it has attacked humans or domestic animals, as officials already know rabies is present in the county, he said.
"Foxes are just like dogs," Sanders said. "They get the mange and parvo" as well as diseases like rabies. The fox sighted in the Merrywood subdivision area could possibly suffer from mange, as reports by witnesses have indicated it seems to have lost hair.
Humane officers have set traps for the foxes in problem areas, but "foxes are smart, and it is hard to get them into a live trap," Sanders said.
Southeast Health District spokesman Roger Naylor said there have been no confirmed reports of rabies in the area this year.
The foxes reportedly seen in Statesboro's urban areas are gray foxes - gray fur with patches of reddish or brown fur. They are seen more in the daytime than red foxes, which are rarer and usually nocturnal, Sanders said.
Cathy Riccio, the Flemington Woods woman, was attacked by a gray fox in September after she tried to rescue her dog, who had also been attacked by the fox.
Humane officers did not immediately capture the fox, which was injured when Riccio's husband shot it. However, it returned the next day, and this time, Carmine Riccio's aim was true. The fox was sent for testing and came back as positive for rabies.
Cathy Riccio suffered bite wounds to her ankle and underwent a series of shots as treatment for the disease.
In 2007, a bobcat attacked a man near a Kennedy Pond residence off Georgia Highway 46. Two men killed a bobcat, which is believed to have been the same one, the next day. But because they froze the carcass before contacting authorities, it was unable to be tested, said Christopher Ivey, who was an officer with Bulloch County Humane Enforcement at that time. Authorities believed the bobcat suffered from rabies.
Years earlier, a bobcat kept a Portal-area woman at bay inside an outbuilding for hours until leaving. Its aggressive behavior led authorities to suspect rabies.
According to www.georgiawildlife.com, both gray and red foxes are common in cities, towns, subdivisions and even near rural home sites, as well as in their natural habitat.
"Although foxes are primarily nocturnal hunters, it is not uncommon to see a fox during the day," the site says. "If you see a fox during the day in either the woods or in your yard, the best advice is to simply leave it alone."
Both red and gray foxes can carry diseases and parasites such as rabies, distemper, roundworms, fleas and mange mites, according to the site.
Sanders said infected animals can be found inside city limits as well as rural areas, and he advised citizens to make sure their pets are vaccinated and not to leave pet food outside.
Doing so lures wild animals to your home, he said.
"Feed your pets inside or take up any food they leave uneaten," Sanders said.
A rabid animal may stagger or stumble, display unprovoked aggressive behavior or be overly friendly, according to www.rabiesalliance.org.
"Animals with advanced rabies may foam at the mouth. This is because the rabies virus affects the salivary glands causing hyper-salivation. They may also develop hydrophobia (fear of water)," according to the website.
Anyone who sees a wild animal acting strangely should contact Bulloch County Humane Enforcement at (912) 489-6911.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.