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‘Aggressive’ fox captured on Capitol Hill

Capitol Police said several people had run-ins with the wily animal

DC Humane Rescue Alliance officers trap a red fox with a net in Lower Senate Park across from the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Tuesday.
DC Humane Rescue Alliance officers trap a red fox with a net in Lower Senate Park across from the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The saga of the fox in Lower Senate Park has ended … for now. Animal control workers captured a fox on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, after multiple reports that one attacked or bit people, including a congressman.

Rep. Ami Bera encountered the fox Monday night and fended it off with an umbrella, after feeling a “totally unprovoked” attack on his leg, he said. He went to Walter Reed hospital on the advice of Congress’ attending physician and got a series of shots. “You don’t want to mess around with rabies,” the California Democrat said.

The fox didn’t draw blood, Bera said, but he did notice a tear at the bottom of his pants.

Capitol Police said other people had run-ins with a fox too and warned the congressional community to be on the lookout. “We have received several reports of aggressive fox encounters on or near the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. For your safety, please do not approach any foxes. Animal Control Officers are working to trap and relocate any foxes they find,” spokesman Tim Barber said in a statement Tuesday morning.

One of those bitten was Alex Heathcock, who was on her way home from a run on the National Mall Monday evening, she said in an interview. As she turned down Fourth St. SW and Independence Ave. to head home, she felt a clamp on her ankle.

When she looked down, she found her ankle bloodied by what she at first thought was a dog, but then realized was a red fox. Drawing on her experience hiking, she stared the animal down until it left and then found a Smithsonian Institute security officer, who called her an ambulance. 

Heathcock said that after a trip to the hospital, she’s feeling better. “Having to get a bunch of shots over the next few weeks is going to be really annoying but it is much better than having rabies.”

A red fox walks outside the north side of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The fox sightings began earlier this week. At about 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, one approached this reporter on the north side of the Russell Senate Office building. After lingering for a few moments, it chased after a squirrel and disappeared into the underbrush.

CQ Roll Call photojournalist Bill Clark also had a close call, with a fox trotting past him near the same spot Tuesday. Soon an animal control van pulled up near the Russell Building, and workers tried corralling the animal. At first it ran under a construction fence, but they eventually managed to grab it.

“Captured,” went the triumphant tweet from the Capitol Police account.

It was the first fox encounter on Capitol Hill for Clark after 22 years of working there, but foxes are not new to downtown Washington. Another round of sightings in 2014 sparked an anonymous satirical Twitter account. (A second satire account quickly popped up this week.)  It’s not clear if the fox captured Tuesday was the same one responsible for the recent attacks.

Red foxes are native to North America, Europe and Asia, according to the Forest Service website. They can range from rural areas to dense cities and live three or four years.

The forestry service site notes that breeding season starts in the spring, with a community of foxes helping raise a single litter of pups. They may stay in or nearby a series of dens for the first month of the pups’ life.

Foxes are also susceptible to rabies and can transmit it to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Most recent rabies cases have occured due to exposure to bats, but the CDC recommends seeking medical help if bitten or directly exposed to any wild animal.

The whole affair drew a response from the only Foxx elected to Congress, Rep. Virginia Foxx. “So much for my ‘Fox Caucus’ idea,” the North Carolina Republican wrote.

Bill Clark contributed to this report.

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