Sinister squirrel attacks multiple people in Prospect Park biting binge

Beware of squirrel: The city is urging any human or pet that may have been bitten by a potentially rabid squirrel in Prospect Park to get a vaccinated in the wake of a July 18–20 biting spree in which five people were attacked.
Associated Press / Patti Blake

This critter is nuts!

A squirrel bit five people near Prospect Park’s entrance at Parkside and Ocean avenues in a July 18–20 serial chomping spree, and the city is urging meadow patrons, human or otherwise, that may have been attacked by the potentially rabid animal to seek medical attention.

“It has exhibited extremely unusual behavior and we are urging anyone who has been bitten by it, including any pets, to see a doctor or veterinarian,” said Health Department commissioner Mary Bassett.

Those chomped on include a 7-year-old girl and an East Flatbush man who said the squirrel sunk its teeth into his finger when he tried to feed it near the Parkside and Ocean avenue entry on July 11, the New York Daily News reported. And at least one victim, a jogger who witnesses watched the rambunctious rodent attack, has yet to be identified by the health department, which is recommending any bitten person or pet get a rabies vaccination — a series of shots that can take four to five weeks to complete.

Rangers equipped with a small arsenal of rodent hunting gear — including snare poles, safety gloves, and cages — scoured the area following the biting binge, according to a Parks Department spokeswoman, who said the officials found a few happy, healthy squirrels, but not the culprit, which is still wanted dead or alive.

And though officials said that the furry miscreant, if afflicted with rabies, is likely dead, visitors to Brooklyn’s Backyard on Monday were still concerned about the possibility of being targeted by the creature with a taste for human flesh.

“That’s scary,” said Francesca Piteo, who lives near Prospect Park. “Hopefully there is just one.”

Rabies, which is almost always fatal without the proper vaccination, rarely affects squirrels. It has yet to be detected in one since New York state launched a program in 1992 to monitor the viral disease in animals, and no person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a squirrel bite, according to the health department.

And while the Park’s Department’s head honcho said the bushy-tailed mammal’s behavior was atypical, its bellicosity prompted him to remind meadow visitors to avoid critters.

“Aggression in squirrels is extremely rare, but park-goers’ behavior toward all wildlife should remain the same — do not approach the animals with whom we share our city, but rather appreciate them from a distance,” said commissioner Mitchell Silver.

People in the United States most commonly contract rabies via bat and dog bites, and the disease can only be diagnosed after symptoms manifest, according to a Boerum Hill veterinarian who treated rabid animals while studying in the Caribbean, where the virus is more common.

“It’s quite a scene to see an animal die of rabies,” said Dr. Amy Ford of the Veterinary Wellness Center of Boerum Hill.

Neither Ford nor representatives for the Park Slope Veterinary Center said they have noticed an uptick in potential rabies cases among pets at their hospitals, and the Boerum Hill vet has not treated any patients for squirrel bites.

“Most of the time it’s the dogs that are chasing the squirrels,” she said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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