A gray fox that fought a tug-of-war with a rural Cave Junction man and did a Three Stooges-like run on its side Sunday suffered from rabies, authorities said.

A gray fox that fought a tug-of-war with a rural Cave Junction man and did a Three Stooges-like run on its side Sunday suffered from rabies, authorities said.

Tests results confirmed late Thursday that this was the fourth fox this year to have the bat strain of rabies in rural Cave Junction.

A goat in the area also contracted rabies earlier this year. Prior to the first fox found with rabies in January, no confirmed cases of rabies in foxes had occurred in Oregon in a decade.

"There's definitely a pocket of rabies there," said Mark Vargas, the Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Whether it's being passed from bats to foxes or from foxes to foxes, we don't know."

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system and is almost always caused by exposure to the saliva of an infected animal. It is nearly always fatal in animals once symptoms begin. Human infections are rare.

In this case, the fox was under Jess Martin's shed and had pulled a piece of a tarp beneath the shed, which is propped about 10 inches above the ground.

When Martin pulled the tarp out, the animal pulled it back in, he said. After a short tug-of-war, the fox pushed its head out "and yapped like it was in pain," he said.

When he pulled the tarp again, the fox came out of the crawl space, Martin said. It then laid on its side and was running in place before Martin killed it with a shovel, he said.

ODFW biologists Monday took the animal for testing.

Oregon health officials warn people that the best precautions against rabies is to keep house pets up to date on rabies vaccines and never handle bats.

Anyone who encounters wildlife acting strangely should leave the animals alone in their natural habitat, and report animal deaths to the ODFW at 541-826-8774.

— Mark Freeman