Feeding the fox without getting too friendly

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 4, 2016

It started with my being approached by a mangy looking young fox, while feeding the horses, a few weeks ago.

Freddy (“Here we go, you’ve given it a name,” moaned Paul into his hands when I relayed the tale) began to regularly appear very near the barn at both dawn and dusk, as is the regular hunting time for foxes, but looking nothing like the other, robust red fox I was also catching glimpses of, the evening light glinting off his fiery coat and bushy tail.

Having once witnessed a rabid fox in the end stage of the disease, I was only slightly wary as this fox trotted towards the paddock where I had led Forrest, to eat his breakfast al fresco, then at the last moment, dropped down in a ‘bow’- as do playful dogs inviting a game of chase – before turning to trot into the woods. He was quick and appeared relatively normal, but his tail told the tale of sarcoptic mange, which would overwhelm his immune system and leave him to die of starvation and organ failure, if not treated.

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“I don’t want you feeding him,” Paul argued. “We have cats and a one-eyed, elderly dog. Foxes kill cats.”

“It sounds counter intuitive but you have to understand the theory,” I replied, illuminating him with all the knowledge I had gleaned about foxes less than 20 minutes ago on the internet.

“He’s hunting around the house and barn, now, because he is weak. Foxes normally hunt a three to four mile territory. But when they have this mange, they have (this sounded very impressive, indeed) 30,000 mites, per square inch, buried into their skin. They are so despondent and miserable that they don’t have the energy to roam long distances to hunt, so they look for easier food: cat food left out, grain that’s fallen from the mouths of horses, or a barn cat. And everyone assumes they’re rabid. But if I get a bottle of Ivermectin and inject it into food for him, as suggested, three times a week for three weeks – ”

“Three weeks??” Paul barked.

“To start with,” I continued quickly, “then once a week for a few more, then the parasites are killed, his tail grows back, he becomes strong and healthy again, then he will resume his natural hunting instincts.”

Paul still wasn’t quite convinced of this but as I boiled a dozen eggs in the kitchen and, three times a week, injected a peeled one and carried it far from the house, across the field, where I had seen him hunt a couple of times, he began to nonchalantly ask when I entered the house again, sometimes as late as 8 p.m., “Did he eat his egg?”

“You mean, Freddy?” I asked.

“The fox,” he muttered, unwilling to name it.

“Yes!” I chirped. “I stood by the fence and watched him come out of the woods, grab it, eat a few bugs, and then split.”

The second week began with Freddy seemingly waiting for his evening egg beneath a black walnut tree, and upon seeing his nervous stance, I stood stock still, carefully placed the egg in the grass, and left.

“What if he begins to depend on you?” Paul asked.

“He won’t,” I said firmly. “I don’t want him as a pet. I don’t want him thinking humans are a good thing, otherwise he’ll wander up to somebody only to get shot in the head. He’s only fed a few times a week, then once a week, and once healthy, he’ll be back to fending for himself.”

“We’ll see,” said Paul.

“We’ll see.” I shot back.

Stay tuned for the next episode of Mild Kingdom.