SALEM — Paul Konstadt was in his backyard grilling chicken last Tuesday night when he saw a woodchuck stick its head out from behind a shed.
When the homeowner glanced over a second time, the furry little animal was moving rapidly in his direction.
"The groundhog started making a run at me," said the 60-year-old Federal Street resident. "I saw it poke its head out around the corner, look at me and then edge closer to me. And then it charged straight at me."
Konstadt, a financial writer, said he gave no thought to making a stand by the grilled chicken or using the barbecue utensils as a defense.
"I ran away into the house," he said.
Moments later, his 24-year-old son, Nick, came through the yard with the family dog, Penny, a 50-pound female Norwegian elkhound mix.
The woodchuck made a second run at the dog, which was on a leash. The dog shook the animal until it was lifeless.
"Running at the dog was a fatal mistake for the groundhog," Konstadt said.
The next day, Konstadt's son took the dead animal to a Boston animal hospital, where it was tested for rabies. On Thursday night, the hospital confirmed the groundhog had the potentially deadly viral infection.
Konstadt began going door to door alerting neighbors. The Federal Street Neighborhood Association sent out an e-mail about the incident.
"I think we have personally spoken with everyone we know on the block," Konstadt said. "I made sure all of my neighbors with toddlers and young children knew immediately."
The Salem Health Department and state health officials also were contacted.
Konstadt doesn't know if there are more sick groundhogs in the area, but he has seen burrows in his and neighbors' yards. As a result, he has contacted animal control specialists to deal with the issue.
Groundhogs normally weigh 7 to 10 pounds and live in burrows with tunnels and several openings, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.
"My suspicion is if I've got a rabid groundhog ... there has to be many other rabid groundhogs out there," he said.
Raccoons, skunks and bats account for the vast majority of rabies cases, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. However, five woodchucks tested positive for rabies at the state lab in 2009, according to DPH records.
Don Famico, the city's animal control officer, said he rarely hears of rabid woodchucks.
"We haven't had that many," he said.
"It does happen on occasion with woodchucks," said Marion Larson, a biologist with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
As a precaution, Konstadt and his son are both receiving rabies shots. They may have been sprayed with saliva from the sick animal while getting their dog off it and don't want to take a chance. Penny also is getting shots.
Although he had a scary and serious experience, Konstadt has not lost his sense of humor. He said he has been getting kidded when he goes to the hospital for his shots.
"I'm the first person who ever walked in there," he said, "(to be) inoculated against a groundhog attack."