WEST BERLIN — The snarling guard dogs that patrolled the Berlin Wall held back East Germans yearning to breathe free in the West, but they also kept an unwelcome visitor at bay--the rabid fox.
When the wall came down, dozens of the disease-ridden creatures began scampering into West Berlin.
Since the wall crumbled last November, 37 rabid foxes have been found in West Berlin, including one at a crowded swimming pool. About 10 people have been bitten, according to West Berlin health department spokesman Thomas-Peter Gallon.
"The fall of the borders with East Germany not only led to people moving freely, but also foxes," Gallon said. "Before, rabies had been virtually wiped out."
East Germany has been slow in combatting rabies, health officials said, although no statistics on rabies cases in the country are available.
West Berliners have been thrown into a minor panic by the rabies outbreak. Police have even issued warnings over radio and by loudspeakers from a van.
The savage guard dogs once posted along border crossings scared away foxes as well as people, Gallon said. In the case of the foxes, just the scent of the dogs was enough to keep them away.
When the wall and other border barriers came down, the dogs were retired and the foxes found they could dash over the crumbling wall and into the West.
In addition to the 37 rabid foxes, West Berlin officials have found six other rabid animals since Nov. 9. During the preceding 10 months, there were only three rabid animals found in West Berlin, none of them foxes. No one was bitten, Gallon said.