Friday, June 29, 2012

Dorabelle Dawn Attack

In about 1979, I was a Patrol Ranger on the Sierra NF in Shaver Lake.  Early one morning I got a radio request to report to Dorabelle Campground to assist the Rangers there.

When I arrived at the Campground HQ I found the Rangers on the porch with a 30ish man. The man’s nose was heavily bandaged and, even with all the bandaging, it was obvious that his nose was quite swollen.

Shaver Lake at Dorabelle Campground
My first thought was that the man had gotten into a fight and would ask me to arrest someone.

That was not to be the case.

“I was sleeping in my tent,” the man began, “when I felt something grab my nose. I woke up and there were a pair of red eyes staring at me! Some sort of animal was biting me right on the bridge of my nose!”

I must have looked at him somewhat dubiously, because he quickly continued, “Swear to God, man! I’m telling the truth! I’m not drunk or anything. I was just asleep and something came into my tent and attacked me!”

He told us that he jumped up and when he stood the creature let go and dropped to the ground. It quickly scurried off into the brush.

“I didn’t get a great look at it ‘cause it was still pretty dark and it moved fast. It was about the size of a large cat and had light fur, tan or gray or maybe even white. But two things I know for sure, it had red eyes and sharp teeth!”

The man, somewhat understandably disenchanted with camping, told us he was heading home. “I want to see my doctor and get this fixed up. I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. That son-of-a-bitch took a lot of skin with him.”

I took the gentleman’s contact info and then shocked him by explaining that he would probably need rabies shots. Often, I explained to him, when an animal attacks without provocation, it’s because it is rabid.

“Couldn’t you trap it and test it?” he asked – no one looks forward to rabies shots, they have a notorious reputation.

“There are so many wild animals up here we’d never be able to be sure that anything we catch would be the one that bit you.”

“It’ll be the one with red eyes!” he said and stomped away.

“We’ll set out some traps,” I said, to his back, “but I’m not optimistic.”

Frankly, I was a bit dubious of the red eye detail, lots of animals’ eyes look red at night, due to reflections. I thought it was probably a squirrel that got into the tent and panicked when it thought it was trapped. We’d had a kid bitten by a squirrel (not rabid) earlier that same year, and it had happened before, usually when someone was trying to feed them.

Still, the rabies shots would be necessary, there’s no cure if it is allowed to begin. It’s nothing to mess with.

A few days later, I got another call from the Dorabelle Rangers.

When I arrived there were two children (10-12 year old) with the Rangers.

The children told us that they had gotten up early to fish.  On their way back from the lake the saw a squirrel-sized animal with white fur run through their campsite – which happened to be the same site where the man had been bitten.

“It looked sort of like a squirrel and sort of like a cat.”  One of the youngsters told us.  “We saw it go into this pipe.”

They pointed to a drainage pipe that went under one of the campground roads just across from the Campground Ranger Station.

The younger of the two then piped in, “It had red eyes!”

Now they had my attention.  Red eyes again.  What was going on here?

Getting my flashlight I looked into the culvert.  I couldn’t see anything, but the children said that they’d been watching both end of the pipe since it went inside and it hadn’t come out.  The Dorabelle Rangers confirmed that nothing had come out since they started watching it after the children contacted them.

So we took two traps and set them on either end of the pipe.  Wrapping chicken wire around both the mouths of the pipe and the traps, we were positive that whatever was in there couldn’t escape.

Nothing had shown up when I went off duty that afternoon.  First thing the next morning I went straight to Dorabelle.  The Head Campground Ranger arrived just as I pulled in.  We walked over to the traps.  There it was!  It had red eyes!  I realized that it was some sort of albino.

But what, exactly, was it?  I’d never seen anything quite like it and I’d been a Ranger for four or five years then, and an outdoorsman all my life.  It looked like a large weasel.  It was much too big to be a weasel, although it did have that general shape.  It wasn’t a badger, wolverine or any sort of cat.

Fish & Game came and collected the beast.  They didn't know what it was either. They took it to the County Health offices in Fresno.  It was euthanized and examined for rabies -- negative.  I contacted the victim and he was greatly relieved to know he wouldn’t need the shots.

A few days later I was in Ivie’s Market.  There on the bulletin board was a notice

Lost Albino Ferret   and a blurry picture of our "Red Eyed Creature."

Yep, it was a domesticated pet ferret.  Before this I’d never heard of them, but that’s what it was, an escaped pet.


  1. Ok I have a ferret story also, After my divorce I moved to a condo in West Carrollton which was located right behind Cox Aboretum (a wonderful nature reserve) I came home late one night, As I walked to my door, I fealt like someone was watching me so I hurried as fast as I could to get in my door, as I turned this animal was running after me. I closed my screen just in time and this little animal began to rub his little head on my screen door. It was a ferret, I was so scared I called my daughter Ashley(who is afraid of nothing) to come home & told her there was a ferret at the door, She laughed at me & said "What the heck would a ferret be doing at our door?" By the time she got home he was gone and I'm not sure she believed me, So we put a cage with a blanket & food & water out by the garage were we could still see the cage. Later as we were watching, The ferret came back, he was climbing on top of his cage, but then we saw the blanket inside the cage moving.."What the heck" I said. So when Ash went out the ferret on the cage came running to her & also the little female that was inside the cage came to her also. That's right there were two of them a male & a female, they were beautiful, kinda a reddish color, she picked them up and they were loving on her, they had to be someone's pets. We looked in the paper & even listed them but no one came to claim them. Ash wanted to keep them but me being afraid of them (I never did hold them) I took them to a pet store the owner was so excited to get them. He said they were a rare kind & even were tattooed with numbers..he said they clearly belonged to some one, but he said sometimes people get overwhelmed with them & turn them loose, he said they most likely thought they would survive in the woods behind our house, but once winter would have come they would not have made it. He told me he could not sell them, but would make sure they got a great home. and that was the last time we saw the cute little guys who chased me into the house.
    Cathy Coehick Short-Papp

  2. so much fun in reading your "escaped pet story"!but probably no fun at all for the man who got bitten on the nose!

  3. What a great memory of your time at work.

  4. I dont remember the Ferret just thought the story was sad. I started around 1979 at Shaver Lake. I have 36 years with Gov now! My first job at Shaver was stopping all traffic going up Hwy 168 during a very bad fire season around 1977 or 78. I was an AD - it was a blast!
    Rebecca Peabody