Susan Johnson jumped at the sight of a rabbit Tuesday. It is understandable if the Briarcliff homeowner still feels skittish after a rabid fox bit three people, then left foam and blood all over her guest bedroom while trapped there overnight.
"It was like too incredible to believe," Johnson said. "It seems funny now, but we were all frightened. It was a terrifying experience."
Johnson had just had an evening meeting in her house at 40 Austin Place with about 30 people involved in the Briarcliff Manor Education Foundation on June 8 when the fox appeared in her neighborhood. Everyone had left except for Julie Plank, a neighbor who lives across the street from Johnson.
Plank left the house about 20 minutes after the meeting, and moments later, Johnson and her husband, Eric Johnson, heard a loud shriek and screaming. Eric Johnson thought Plank was being attacked by a man and ran outside. Then he too began screaming.
"It was dark outside and we couldn't even tell what was happening, but the animal left and went running towards myself and my mother-in-law," Johnson said. "It latched onto my mother-in-law's pant leg and she shook it off and it ran in our house."
Johnson and her mother-in-law followed the fox into the house and closed the door of a guest bedroom on the ground floor after the fox ran inside.
"My neighbor was wearing white pants and there was blood all over her pants because she got bit," Johnson said.
Johnson took Plank to Phelps Hospital's emergency room while her husband and two sons, 10 and 12, stayed in the house. One son had picked up a bat after hearing screams but when he saw the fox run by, he dropped the bat, leapt up the stairs and jumped into bed with his brother.
While Johnson and Plank were at the hospital, police and an animal control officer from Ossining set a cage trap in the guest bedroom that held the fox.
In the emergency room, Johnson and Plank met two other victims of the fox – an 18-year-old who had been bitten in the leg and a 20-year-old who had fallen down and broken his wrist while running away from the fox.
"I didn't get home until three in the morning and it was hard to sleep because I would ascribe powers to this animal. I was envisioning that it would open the door and come upstairs to attack us," Johnson said.
The next morning, police and the animal control officer came back with a bigger crate and some poisoned food. They opened the bedroom door once to put in the poison, then decided that they should give the animal a little more poison.
Johnson and her husband were signing some loan documents with loan officers in their house when they heard the fox run out of the guest bedroom.
"As soon as we heard the fox come out, we said 'Get out! Get out! We all need to get out of the house this second!'" Johnson said.
Johnson and her husband ran out of their house with the loan officers and screamed at their kids upstairs to close their doors. They were safely outside when they realized that Mojo, the family's chocolate Labrador, was trapped in an enclosed area of the house formed by child-protection gates.
"The police and animal control were running through the house, police were pepper spraying," Johnson said. "We realize Mojo is in there and we can hear them fighting. The fox had jumped into the gated area."
At that point, in the midst of its fight with the dog, poison took effect on the fox and the animal died.
"The dog was ok. I don't think they found any bite marks so we're assuming our dog got the better of the fight," Johnson said.
Luckly, Mojo was up-to-date on his rabies vaccinations.
The animal control officer sent the head of the fox to the county health department so that its brain could be analyzed for rabies. On Friday, test results confirmed that the fox was rabid.
In total, the fox attacked three people – two on Chestnut Hill Lane and one on
Austin Place – as well as a dog on Long Hill Road before being trapped in Johnson's house, county health officials said.
"I hated having this fox in our house but in some ways I was actually glad that it wasn't out biting more people and kids," Johnson said.
Johnson described the rabid fox as "not cute at all. To me it looked like a giant ferret," she said. "It was grey, it had very short legs and it looked like a giant rodent, kind of fluffy."
With the terrifying animal finally dead, Johnson and her husband turned to the task of cleaning up their home, which had blood and foam all over in the room where the fox had spent a night.
The Johnsons hoped that county health workers would lend a hand with cleaning up, but they were told that the health department does not do that.
"They said the rabies disease is only alive in saliva or blood for a couple of hours, so they just advised us to use bleach and wear gloves," Johnson said.
Johnson plans on putting on gloves and scrubbing today. She and her neighbor Plank still feel scared to death of any animal, but they're glad there wasn't the bloodbath that there could have been if the fox had attacked the Briarcliff Manor Education Foundation guests, or one of Johnson's children.
"I'm generally not a very scared person, but I think I'm probably going to be cautious for the next couple of weeks," Johnson said.
Are you concerned about rabid animals? Leave your comment below or join TheDailyBriarcliff.com on Facebook.