Victim of rabid beaver tires of brush with fame

Falls Church woman, 83, moving on

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Lillian Peterson says she’s ready to move on from her reluctant role as the face of rabid beaver attacks, but her injuries tell another story.

Rifling through her mail late Thursday afternoon, a white cast that envelops her hand can be seen beneath her cream blouse, and her steps are slow and deliberate as she navigates her front porch, a sign that the wound on one of her calves has yet to heal.

Ms. Peterson, 83, said she could need plastic surgery for her leg, but in the meantime she’s planning on diving right back into her job in real estate — a career she’s had for nearly 50 years.

“I’ve been in and out of the hospital, but I’m in the real estate business and I’ve got a lot of things that have to get done,” she said. “It’s really working and recovering at the same time.”

Ms. Peterson was attacked by a rabid beaver while swimming in Lake Barcroft, less than two miles from her Falls Church home, and what happened to her plays out like the script of a B horror film, with a bloody surprise attack and a villain that refused to die.

After going for an early evening swim Sept. 4, Ms. Peterson was emerging from the private 135-acre lake when a rabid beaver attacked her legs. She was joined by a few good Samaritans who’d heard her screaming, and after beating and stunning it, were finally able to capture the animal in a net to await animal control.

Ms. Peterson was taken to the hospital where she received 16 injections to fight infection. She was treated for bite marks up and down her legs, and she almost had her thumb bitten off.

Since the incident, Ms. Peterson has been given booster shots against any threat of rabies, but it was the orange-sized bite on the back of her calf that proved troublesome.

Ms. Peterson is due back at the hospital Friday to continue her checkups with doctors. She was there earlier this week having her leg treated for an infection.

“The other bites healed up fine, but the big one was the worst,” she said. “I had the last [booster] the other day but I realized I needed to have more antibiotics.”

Despite the frequent trips, Ms. Peterson remains cautiously optimistic, saying she’s “going to be all right.”

Headlines about Ms. Peterson made many residents do a double-take. It was a rabid beaver attack in a neighborhood pond, the likes of which had not been reported in the area for 12 years.

The story became even more notable when less than a week later, a second rabid beaver was caught in a small pond in Springfield, about 12 miles away. A children’s fishing competition at Hidden Pond Nature Center was interrupted when a beaver leaped out of the water onto a dock and chased some of the young fishers.

No one was injured in the Springfield incident.

A spokeswoman for Fairfax County said that despite the two high profile incidents, animal control officers have not seen an increase in the number of confirmed rabies cases, which is usually between 50 and 60 reports each year.

Of the 450 animals in 2011 that animal control had reason to pick up in Fairfax County and test for rabies, 40 tested positive for the disease.

Fairfax is not the only area this summer to have rabid beaver problems.

In July two young girls were bitten by one of the critters while swimming in Lake Anna in Spotsylvania. At the time, Virginia Department of Health officials said it was the fourth time in the last decade a beaver in the state was confirmed to have rabies.

Last month, a 51-year-old Boy Scout leader from New York was attacked by a rabid beaver while swimming in the Delaware River.

While animal control officers continue to canvass neighborhoods in Fairfax to educate residents on being mindful of their surrounding in the wilderness, Ms. Peterson is working to adjust to a new normal.

Standing in her front doorway, shaded by trees, she said she’d taken down the sign discouraging interview requests at her Falls Church home.

Her message for those curious about her life since the attack: “Thank you and goodbye.”

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