NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 24, 2013

Close encounter

Man rescues dog from fisher attack

By Doug Ireland
Staff writer

---- — HAMPSTEAD, N.H. — It’s a scream James Maranto will never forget.

Maranto, 56, was taking the trash outside his Harper Ridge Road home Tuesday night when his 10-month-old puppy Bentley disappeared into the darkness.

Moments later, Maranto heard a blood-curdling shriek. He found the Cockapoo near his neighbor’s bird feeder, pinned to the ground by a fisher. The attacker had the puppy by the throat, said Maranto, assistant harbormaster in Newburyport.

Maranto kicked the fisher, but it wouldn’t let go.

He quickly grabbed the fisher, which scratched his hands and ran off.

Bentley, whose nose was scratched, was dazed and bleeding from the mouth.

It was only then that Maranto realized he was dealing with a fisher, a long, brown animal similar to a weasel that feeds on small mammals.

It apparently was beneath the bird feeder when the puppy approached. The fisher let out three loud screams during the encounter, Maranto said.

“It happened so quick,” Maranto recalled yesterday. “We were very, very lucky. I was expecting to see (Bentley’s) throat ripped apart.”

Maranto said he and Bentley were shaken by the incident. Both received rabies shots as a precaution. Maranto drove to Exeter Hospital while his wife, Christine, took Bentley to Brentwood Animal Hospital.

“The vet told my wife I saved my dog’s life,” Maranto said. “He’s all better now, but last night his tail was down.”

Maranto said he’s just glad he still has Bentley. He said he is relieved he didn’t go back into the house, expecting Bentley to return on his own.

“If I had walked into the house, he would have been dead,” Maranto said.

But Maranto paid the price.

He required seven rabies shots Tuesday night. The self-employed electrician will need additional shots over the next three weeks.

Maranto hopes he doesn’t encounter another fisher any time soon.

It’s the second one he has seen. Two years ago, one wandered into his yard, but left without incident.

“You don’t want to walk up to one,” Maranto said.

The encounter Tuesday night was reported to Hampstead Animal Control Officer Sheila Johannesen, who contacted the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Johannesen, an animal control officer for nearly a decade in Hampstead and Danville, said this was the first time she’s been called about a fisher.

But she’s heard them before.

“They have a scream that when you hear it, it’s just chilling,” Johannesen said.

Fish and Game wildlife biologist Patrick Tate said it’s unusual for a human to get that close to a fisher because they are afraid of people.

“But, if they are hungry in the winter, they will come near humans,” he said. “The fisher was probably so attuned to getting that dog, it probably didn’t see (Maranto).”

If a fisher targets a small animal for food, it will do anything to make sure the creature doesn’t escape, Tate said.

They have small, powerful jaws and eat mice, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys and porcupines. A fisher will feed on a deer carcass if it finds one, he said.

A large male is usually 3 feet long from head to tail, weighing 8 to 10 pounds, Tate said. Females are a bit smaller.

“They have very sharp claws,” he said. “Once they have that food source, they will stick it out.”

Fishers are known to kill cats, but usually stay away from dogs because of their size. Bentley weighs 24 pounds, Maranto said.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of a dog situation,” Tate said.

They are mostly known for their distinctive scream, their mating call, Tate said.

“It’s often described to me as a baby crying in the woods,” he said.