CLERMONT — Henry “Butch” Antauer, 74, was picking up fallen tree branches at his cabin home when he encountered a common sight: a fox.
“I was out there in shorts, flip flops and a T-shirt and I went and took a picture of this fox,” said Antauer, who lives north of Lake Minneola.
The gray foxes he sees usually skitter away, but this one /29 bolted under his pickup Tuesday and “started snarling and growling … and making all kinds of weird noises,” he said Friday.
The fox lunged at Antauer, who “whacked it upside the head” with his “fairly heavy” iPhone attached to an external battery. The fox made two more lunges before he landed a direct hit “square in the head” and dazed it. He then grabbed his .22-caliber pellet rifle and shot it in the head.
Officials at the Florida Department of Health in Lake County officials picked up the fox and confirmed it was rabid.
“My next-door neighbors are both up there in their mid-90s, and he was out there working in the yard, so I was thinking that if he was out there he would not stand a chance against this fox,” Antauer said.
He didn’t suffer any scratches or bites from the gray fox, which are more prevalent in North Florida and woodland areas.
But he did come into contact with the animal’s saliva — his phone was covered with it — and if it seeps in through cracked skin he could become infected.
People experience fever, vomiting, headaches and even death, if infected by rabies, according to the Mayo Clinic.
On Thursday, Antauer received four vaccination shots and will have to undergo the process twice more.
But he couldn’t get the fox out of his mind.
“It didn’t bother me that day, but the next night, it woke me up and all I could see was this thing coming at me,” he said. “It was screaming.”
Antauer, who retired as an engineer from Walt Disney World, is often outside his cabin, picking up tree branches.
His wife, Jodie Antauer, said she constantly takes walks her 7-pound Yorkshire Terrier.
Rabid animals are occasionally reported in Central Florida.
Crazed cats, raccoons, bats and foxes were reported in Lake in 2014 and later confirmed as rabid by the health department.
In September 2015, a rabid bat was found on the ground at South Lake High School. About 15 students first tried to help the bat before a teacher found it.
In May, the Orange County health department issued a rabies alert for the southwest sector of the county after a raccoon — one of the most common rabid species in Florida — tested positive for the disease.
Officials at the time were afraid the raccoon could have infected cats in the area.
“Rabies is a potentially fatal disease,” said Aaron Kissler, health officer of the Florida Department of Health in Lake County. “It is important not to handle wild animals, to be aware of unusual acting animals and to keep pets vaccinated against rabies.”
The health department asks residents not to bring wild animals into their homes and to keep their pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date.
If bitten, people are advised to wash and scrub the wound and immediately see doctors.
But Antauer won’t soon forget locking eyes with the fox.
“I started backing up and it came out from under the truck and it looked right at me,” he said. “… I never had an experience with what would I do if something attacked me like that.”