Today we awoke to our second snowfall, the first that actually lasted beyond the sun breaking through the clouds for more than an hour. There’s probably still an inch on the ground, but it is melting in the bright sunshine. I really do love winter. As soon as there is snow on the ground, the whole world changes color because the light is so different. Everything looks crisp and defined in this light. The world becomes all hard lines and blinding lightness. It is the same world I strolled through in summer, but somehow it’s also totally different.
As I look at our outdoor thermometer, I see that in the sunshine at midday it is reading 28°F and the winds are due to pick up, potentially bringing some more snow tonight. It’s cold. And while I have a warm house and plenty of wool to keep me warm, I can’t help but think about a special someone…
I shared an image of this Red Fox at the beginning of October and I think it’s time I share his story.
I’d spotted this fox around the neighborhood a handful of times during the past year — once loping across the street, once chasing a rabbit in an open lot — you know, doing what foxes are supposed to do. In early October when it slinked into our yard, though, it was almost certainly suffering from sarcoptic mange. Nearly blinded by its swollen eyes and clearly starving, it was resorting to stealing sunflower seeds from our ground feeder.
Its posture and body language were all wrong.
It was clear that it was desperate — with eyes almost completely swollen shut, we assumed hunting was difficult if not impossible. With winter coming, things were not looking good for its survival.
Mr. Knitting Sarah shared a photo on his social media and had feedback from some biologist friends for courses of treatment that might help. He dug further and researched treatment plans and then set about getting the inexpensive medicine available at our local farm store. We set up a dosing calendar based on helpful instructions from a red fox rehab center. Since we wanted to remain hands-off (I’m not interested in wrangling sick wild animals) for our safety as well as the animal’s, we opted to inject food with meds for treatment. We set-up trail cameras on our feeding stations to be able to monitor them, making sure the fox actually was getting the meds. We’d talked about getting trail cams for a while to see what kinds of animals were coming through our yard at night and this was just a good reason to finally do it.
Because treatment needs to happen over a 3-6 week period to effectively treat mange, the key is that you have to get the fox to return regularly. I don’t think this one had an iPhone on which I could set an alarm, so per instructions we set out his favorite foods daily — a mix of wet & dry cat food and a couple cut up hot dogs. The hot dogs were key as they were his favorite. In the early days, I’d refill the stations if I knew he’d been through to make sure there was always food available.
When dosing day rolled around, I would be in the kitchen carefully hollowing hot dogs, injecting them with the appropriate dose of medicine, and then placing a couple pieces of dry cat food inside to soak up the meds in case the piece of hot dog should happen to fall over. Then I’d set the medicated “fox dogs” around the yard and wait, hoping that he’d take them and hoping I’d be able to get a glimpse of him to observe his appearance and body language for comparison.
Sure enough, he came back. And like a good patient, he took his meds every time.
Over the course of the next month, we watched carefully and we set food out and we dosed on schedule. At first, the images taken at night would catch eye shine in just the one eye and he’d return multiple times each night with that same insecure posture.
We were ecstatic with each successful dose and I read vehemently about the progression of the healing process for this disease. I promise you that at this point, I know way more details about sarcoptic mange and treatment for it than I ever thought I would. Within a couple weeks, we started to see him spacing out his visits a bit and the eye shine of the second eye started to show up, first a little slit and then…
Both eyes wide open!
His slink became more like prancing punctuated with the occasional leap and pounce. We started to get images that indicated the fox was pushing the feral cat that stopped by sometimes off the food station instead of skittishly ducking away from it. I even watched it once scare off a bunch of deer!
One evening, our red fox friend popped by just before dusk and we were astonished — our scraggly friend had transformed into this much healthier looking canine!
Still a little skinny maybe and his tail was taking its time growing back in, but his posture and body language was so much better.
His winter coat was coming in nicely…
It looked like an mostly healthy fox! He pranced around looking in all his familiar spots for his fox dogs just long enough to for Mr. KS to catch these photos. He was on his way, leaping and bouncing like he was walking on air until he was out of sight.
The last evening we caught a picture of him was October 30th. I’m wondering if the hub-bub of trick or treating on the 31st paired with the feral cats who were occasionally dropping by to take advantage of the feeding stations made it competitive enough that with his improved health he finally had the incentive to move back out into wilder terrain. We’re right on the edge of town, so it would make sense as he has a lot of fertile hunting grounds just a little farther afield. Of course it could be that the mange came roaring back. It could be that some other predator or the cold proved too much. We might never know.
I do know, however, that when you have a very big heart and you’re a little bit of a control freak, this kind of investment can be taxing. I started out very resistant to the whole endeavor, afraid to be hurt or disappointed or to fail, and only got involved because Mr. KS pushed me. I’m glad that he did. As time went by and I saw the fox’s health improve though, I realized that it wasn’t about making sure this animal survived the winter (although that was and is the hope). Each easy meal and each successful dose of meds gave this animal an extra day; a day that was better than his last, a day he likely would not have had otherwise. And that was… meaningful.
It is easy to go through life and in the hustle and bustle forget just how precious each day is. It’s easy when we aren’t struggling, to forget what it means to struggle. It’s easy to take good fortune and good health for granted. And it’s easy to not recognize just what an impact you can have on another’s life with just a small investment of time. These are the life lessons I learned from our Red Fox and that is… meaningful.
I hope that our Red Fox friend is healthy and pouncing and prancing and leaping in a place that makes him happy. I hope his belly is full and his coat is warm. I hope that maybe someday I’ll see him again. But most of all, I’m thankful for the days we had each other because for as much as he needed us, I think there is part of me that needed him.