An 8-year-old New Jersey girl is recovering after she was attacked by a fox while on a play date with friends blocks from her home. A young man playing basketball nearby heard her cries for help and threw a ball at the fox to distract it.
The girl, Dylan Dratch, was standing in a brook in a friend's backyard with a handful of girls, a few blocks from her home in Livingston, about 19 miles from Manhattan, when she encountered the fox at about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Dylan, who celebrated her birthday July 19, said Friday that she thought she was dreaming, but the fox quickly started nipping at her feet.
That's when she started to scream.
Matthew Nichter, 20, who lives next door to where the attack occurred, was playing basketball with his neighbors' three sons in their front yard.
"We heard screaming," he said in a telephone interview Friday. "I ran back there, still holding the basketball I was playing with."
Nichter sprinted to Dylan who was getting attacked by the fox.
"I threw the basketball as a form of distraction and chased it away," he said. "Dylan was able to break away."
Nichter said he followed the fox — a short distance — until it left the property.
"I then went back across the brook and picked up Dylan," he said, adding that he tried to calm her down. "She was scared, crying and her feet were really bloody."
He said he tried his best to comfort Dylan by telling her that her parents, an ambulance and police were on the way.
Dylan was taken to a hospital where her mother, Stacey, said she was given the first of what will likely be a series of rabies shots, as well as a shot of epinephrine because she is allergic to canines.
Dylan sustained 19 puncture wounds on her legs and feet, her mother said.
"She’s got a lot of bruising all over her ankles," Stacey Dratch said in an interview Friday. "The fox left an imprint of his mouth on the back of her legs."
It is the first time a fox has attacked a human in the township in more than 31 years, Livingston Police Chief Gary Marshuetz said.
"The cops said either Dylan accidentally came into contact with its den or the fox was rabid," Dratch, 45, said.
The police chief said Friday, "The state Division of Fish and Wildlife are actively helping us trap the animal."
Dratch said she was shocked to learn that Dylan was attacked by a fox.
"It’s not a call somebody wants to get," she said.
Despite how worried she was, once she got to Dylan, the youngest of her three children, Dratch had to remain calm to comfort her. Dylan's brothers, Jack, 16, and Bobby, 13, have told her they are proud of her bravery.
Dylan said she considers Nichter a lifesaver. Dratch believes he is a godsend.
Nichter doesn't consider himself a hero.
"It's really sweet and I appreciate that they feel that way," he said. "I'm just glad I was able to help and was in the right place at the right time."
He said he acted instinctively.
"I’m really happy she’s OK," he added. "It could have been a lot worse."