83-year-old woman fights off rabid beaver
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WASHINGTON -- The creature knocked Lillian Peterson off her feet as she was climbing out of Virginia's Lake Barcroft after a swim. The 83-year-old woman twisted around to see what attacked her and noticed one thing: large, orange teeth.
A 35-pound, 24-inch rabid beaver had bitten her on the back of the leg and would not let go, sparking an ordeal that lasted more than 20 minutes Tuesday evening. The Falls Church woman and a friend battled the animal with canoe paddles, a stick and bare hands as it came at them again and again. Ms. Peterson was seriously injured.
Authorities said such attacks are exceedingly rare in suburban Washington; it was the first in northern Virginia's Fairfax County in at least 12 years.
"It bit me so bad," Ms. Peterson said during a phone call from her bed at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va., where she was recovering. "I started kicking it with my other leg, but I wasn't sure what I would do."
As she did on many nights, Ms. Peterson went for a swim in the 135-acre private lake in the Baileys Crossroads area of Fairfax. She is athletic and active, still swimming and working as a real estate agent.
A co-worker, Mike Korin, happened to be on the lake that night, giving a fishing lesson -- a coincidence that would help free her from the attack. About 6 p.m., he said he noticed the beaver splashing around the lake. It struck the avid fisherman and former U.S. Forest Service employee as unusual. Soon, he said, he saw it swimming toward Ms. Peterson, who was just finishing up her swim on a far bank. Then Ms. Peterson went down.
"I heard horrible yelling and knew it was the real deal," he said. "She was saying, 'I can't get out of its grip. It's got me.' "
Mr. Korin fired up boat engines and began heading across the lake. He also dialed 911. Ms. Peterson said she immediately began fighting back. She grabbed a walking stick and gouged the beaver in its eyes, thinking she could blind it. During the struggle, the beaver took a bite out of her left calf, nearly bit off her thumb and left puncture wounds all over her arms and legs, Mr. Korin and Ms. Peterson said. Still, it wouldn't stop.
By the time Mr. Korin arrived, he said, he had an emergency dispatcher on speakerphone but had a difficult choice to make: Explain the situation to authorities, give Ms. Peterson medical aid or try to neutralize the beaver. Suddenly, the animal let go of Ms. Peterson and swam directly at Mr. Korin's boat. Mr. Korin said he picked up a canoe paddle and "started beating savagely" on the beaver, breaking the paddle.
Mr. Korin said the attack seemed to stun the animal, so he turned his attention to helping Ms. Peterson out of the water and dealing with the dispatcher. But as he was lifting her to the bank, the beaver came at them again. He beat it with the paddle one more time. Then it seemed dead.
An emergency crew arrived shortly and began treating Ms. Peterson. The ordeal appeared to be over. "All of a sudden, the beaver flips over and comes back to life," Mr. Korin said.
One paramedics grabbed another canoe paddle to battle the animal, Mr. Korin said. Mr. Korin jumped in and out of his boat, trying to corral the beaver because he did not want it to get away and attack anyone else.
Finally, he was able to toss a net over its head and trap it. When animal control officers arrived, they euthanized the beaver.
Ms. Peterson said she was being treated for rabies with painful shots after police said the beaver tested positive for it.
First Published September 6, 2012 1:18 am