So you are out for a walk, hike, bike ride or jog and suddenly a wild animal appears. What do you do; especially if the animal starts to follow you?
Dogs, foxes, coyotes, deer, black bears and even geese have been known to stalk humans. Sometimes it is out of curiosity, or hunger, or fear for their young, or maybe the animal is rabid.
The simplest rule in the great outdoors is don’t touch or go near an animal. Although some of these animals may look cool or even cute, leave them alone. Don’t ever try to feed a wild animal even if they look hungry.
Wildlife experts offer varying advice and every situation is different. First thing to do is try to stay calm, quickly access the situation; look for ways out, such as climbing a tree or seeking shelter in someone’s yard or finding a weapon; but never run which could spark the animal to pursue. There are very few animals that a human can out run.
Carrying sound making devices such as a whistle or horn could help scare an animal away. Sometimes simply yelling or making loud noises can work. Also, pepper spray, a walking stick, a rock or even a hand-held weapon (pistol or knife) may be needed if your life is imminently in danger. Carry a cell phone to summon help if needed.
If a strange dog comes running towards you, stop and stand still. Don’t shout or wave your arms as this will either encourage or frighten the dog. Do not make eye contact with the dog, this could be perceived as a threat. If it seems agitated in any way, remain calm and do nothing to approach it or interact with it.
If it tries to circle and get behind you, pivot slowly, so that you are always facing it. Do not move your arms or legs as you pivot. Never turn your back on a dog that is moving toward you. Do not panic and never run. Wait until it stops moving before you move and then move slowly, backing away from it. Stop when it moves again.
Never strike or kick or make any threatening physical moves toward any dog, whether a strange dog or one you already know. But, fight back if the dog does attack. Fight as though your life depends on it, because it does. Dog attacks can be fatal. If the dog starts biting you, you’ve got to defend yourself. Hit or kick the dog in the throat, nose, and the back of the head. This will stun the dog and give you time to get away.
If the dog knocks you over, curl up in a ball. Keep your head and arms tucked under your body until you can get safely up.
Dogs are vicious biters but cannot wrestle, so try to get an advantageous position by being on top and break their bones fairly quickly.
If you get bitten, seek medical attention at once. You need the proper treatments, as the dog that bit you may have had rabies. Remember where and when the dog bit you, so the authorities can recover the dog and deal with it as they see fit.
Two of the increasingly troublesome animals seem to be foxes and coyotes as their numbers have flourished especially in urban areas where they scavenge for food, such as pet food or unsecured garbage which can result in backyard visits. Both have nocturnal habits but are being spotted more during daytime hours, especially on overcast days. Never run from a fox or coyote, both are capable of reaching speeds in excess of 30 m.p.h.
Foxes have a natural fear of people. If you see one outside during the day, it’s no cause for alarm though. Foxes prey on squirrels, birds, chipmunks and other animals that are only active by day, so they may simply be looking for a meal at that time. It will usually run away from you as soon as it detects your presence. If not, the fox has probably learned to associate people with food (likely because someone has been feeding it) and may even approach you. These foxes can usually be scared away by making loud noises such as yelling or blowing whistles, dousing them with water or by throwing objects toward them but not directly at them.
Both red and gray foxes generally avoid people. But, red foxes are sometimes very outgoing, showing boldness that is sometimes alarming. A hiker along a woodland trail may encounter a fox which does not retreat, but sits and watches the human approach. Red foxes seem less bothered by people than are grays.
Because there is a great variety of color-types among foxes, the only sure way to identify a red fox or a gray fox is by its’ tail. Red foxes are distinguishable from gray foxes by the tips of their tails, which are white. The gray’s tail has a black tip.
Foxes are not dangerous to humans, except when they are rabid, which is rare, or when they are captured and handled. A fox’s natural tendency is to flee rather than fight.
Before calling to report a fox or ask for assistance, take time to observe the fox’s behavior, and look for any of these signs: partial paralysis or the inability to use its limbs well; circling or staggering as if drunk; self-mutilation or acting aggressively for no reason.
If you observe these signs, do not approach the fox. Remember exposure to rabies is primarily through bites or saliva. Contact your local animal control agency, police department or health department if you see a fox showing the above signs.
If you are bitten by a stray or wild fox thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water and seek immediate medical attention. Prompt medical care will prevent a rabies infection. Post-exposure treatment is 100% effective if promptly administered. Be sure to report the bite to your local animal control agency, police department, or health department.
Although foxes sometimes succumb to rabies, the fox strain of the disease has rarely been transmitted to a human in this country. Raccoons are the most common wild animal with rabies.
Having your domestic animals vaccinated is the most important thing you can do to protect them, yourself and others against rabies. If a pet is bitten by a fox or by any other wild animal take it immediately to your veterinarian for an examination and an assessment of any need for vaccination.
Sometimes a mange-stricken fox may be mistaken for a rabid one because of their sickly appearance and seeming lack of fear of humans. Mange is an extremely debilitating affliction caused by microscopic parasites that result in either patchy or entire hair loss. The disease causes intense irritation of the skin to the point where foxes have been known to chew their own tails off trying to relieve the itching. At advanced stages, infected foxes are often seen wandering around during the daytime, seemingly unafraid.
Generally, coyotes are reclusive animals who avoid human contact but they have adapted well to urban and suburban environments, and may approach people for lack of fear and have become so bold they even feel safe visiting yards when people are present. Bold coyotes should not be tolerated or enticed but instead given the clear message that they should not be so brazen.
Hazing is a method that makes use of deterrents to move an animal out of an area or discourage an undesirable behavior or activity. Hazing can help maintain a coyote’s fear of humans and deter them from backyards and play spaces.
The simplest method of hazing a coyote involves being loud and large; standing tall, waving your arms, and yelling at the coyote. Noisemakers include voice, whistles, air horns, bells, “shaker” cans full of marbles or pennies, pots, lids or pie pans banged together. Projectiles can be used such as sticks, small rocks, cans, tennis balls or rubber balls. Throw them near the animal without trying to hit them. Other deterrents can be hoses, water guns with vinegar water, spray bottles with vinegar water, pepper spray or bear repellent.
Never run from a coyote and never turn your back on them. If you think the animal is sick or injured back away slowly. If you are attacked: punch, kick, fight and protect your neck.
Coyote attacks on people are very rare. There have only been two recorded incidences in the United States and Canada of humans being killed by coyotes. One involved a child in Southern California in the 1980’s and the other a 19-year old woman in Nova Scotia in 2009.
In many human attack incidents, it turns out that the offending coyote was being fed by people. In many other instances, people were bitten while trying to rescue their pet from a coyote attack. Less often, people are bitten by cornered coyotes, or even more rarely, rabid coyotes.
A few don’ts:
- Do not take wild animals out of the wild and do not try to move young animals into your home or to another location. It is against the law to keep wild animals without a special permit. Wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous to people.
- Do not touch or pick up an animal; especially if they look sick or hurt.
- Do not let your pet near a wild animal. Pets can get infected with some wildlife diseases.
- Do not feed wildlife any human food. Animals can get sick by eating the wrong foods.
- Do not chase or disturb wildlife in their den, nest or habitat. You or the animal can get hurt.
Next time: What do you do when you meet a bear?