file photo of beavers playing
PINE PLAINS, N.Y. (Poughkeepsie Journal) - A rabid beaver that attacked a Boy Scout leader swimming in the Delaware River was killed after Scouts in the troop pelted it with rocks.
Health officials describe the attack as rare, but say human encounters with wild animals are more common in the summer months.
On Aug. 2, 51-year-old Normand Brousseau, an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 32 out of Elizaville, Columbia County, was swimming in the Delaware River. Brousseau, another leader and four Scouts were on a field trip at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Pennsylvania.
Brousseau, who was in the water hanging onto a noodle float, noticed a dark shape nearby. "It came through my legs and attached itself to my chest," he said. "I thought it was a giant carp fish."
It wasn't. He was being attacked by a rabid beaver. Once he was bitten, he grabbed the animal and threw it away from his body. "Then it came at me again," he said.
The beaver bit him in the leg and then again in his buttocks, arm, hand and waist. At that point, Brousseau said, "the adrenaline kicked in."
"I grabbed it in its mouth," he said. "I had it around its bottom jaw as tightly as I could because I knew it was going to either bite me or bite the boys. I called the Scouts to come give me a hand."
One of the Scouts was 16-year-old Nick Hedges of Elizaville. "I grabbed him by the arm and started pulling him to the shore," Hedges said.
The Scout was careful to keep an eye on the beaver, which, he said, was in Brousseau's grasp about five feet away. Brousseau tossed the animal up onto the shore.
The beaver was stunned for a second or two, Hedges said, but "then it started attacking the noodle."
With their counselor hurt and bleeding on shore, the teens took matters into their own hands. "We started throwing rocks at it," he said. "We could see it was still dangerous."
The Scouts threw stones at the beaver until it was dead. A couple passing by in a canoe took Brousseau to the other side of the river and another passerby called 911.
Dutchess County health officials said an attack from a rabid beaver is unusual, explaining that more often people in Dutchess report suspected cases of rabid cats, dogs and bats.
"This is the time of year people will encounter more bats because they're active now - they're coming into contact with them more often," said Stephen Capowski, director of environmental health services for the Dutchess County Health Department.
Capowski cautioned people to steer clear of animals exhibiting unusual behavior: nocturnal animals such as bats, skunks and raccoons out during the daytime; dogs and cats indiscriminately attacking other dogs and cats, or people, and any animal behaving aggressively.
Capowski said human cases of rabies are rare in Dutchess.
Park rangers brought Brousseau to the Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Pa., where he was treated for his injuries. He's now on the mend and the parents of Scouts in his troop are feeling grateful.
"It was very brave of him," said Susan Treacy of Stanfordville, whose 15-year-old son, Zach Pruner, was also in the river during the attack. "Who'd be crazy enough to hang onto a rabid beaver?"
The day after the attack, Brousseau received a call from a doctor confirming the beaver had been rabid. Since then, he's received more than 20 rabies shots. "I'm pretty sore," he said, still appearing bruised with small cuts along his hands and arms Friday.
Brousseau brushed off the notion of acting heroically that day. "It's my job to protect the boys," he said. "Part of what I do is to make sure they're always protected."
Brousseau said he has gained a new-found respect for nature. "When you go out into nature, you always need to veer on the side of caution," he said. "Don't assume a wild animal is not sick. You have to be on your toes at all times."
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