By Anna Matetic | Photography by Kelvin Andow
Three excited adult foxes jump up in greeting when we enter the fox enclosure. Unwilling to be petted, they are more interested in the treats in our hands than us. Their noises of happiness are a cross between the squeaky meow of a cat and the short barks of a dog.
I break off pieces of treats and offer them to each fox in turn. Each fox quickly grabs its treasure and runs away with it.
It’s enchanting to be this close to a fox, like living a childhood dream from Disney’s “Fox and the Hound.”
We watch Mikayla Raines, founder of Save A Fox Rescue, lean over to scratch the belly of her fox, Finnegan, and laugh as another fox named Casper jumps on her shoulders. The foxes here are fur farm rescues.
It’s a bittersweet day at the rescue in Lakeville, Minn. Baby season is over and the last baby fox is going home today with his adoptive family. Jaclyn and Justyn Moon, a couple who drove from Oklahoma, are here to adopt an Arctic fox pup they have named Hashi.
Foxes are born on fur farms once a year in the spring. “That’s the only time period that we have baby foxes,” said Raines. Baby foxes mean bottle feedings every three hours. Raines does this task by herself because bottle feeding a baby fox is risky to the fox. “If done wrong and the baby fox aspirates the formula out his nose, he could die from it.”
From the round-the-clock feedings, Save A Fox provides the usual feeding, care, and veterinarian visits for foxes young and old. With their volunteers, the rescue also provides what Raines calls socialization and enrichment.
Not wildlife rehab
“This is a lot different from like a wildlife rehab center,” said Raines, “because these foxes can never go in the wild.”
Volunteers socialize the animals and help them get comfortable with people. The pups can start socializing right away, but it takes longer with the adults. “They’ve never been petted or touched,” said Raines. The goal is to have one volunteer per fox to work on socializing the animal.
While foxes can be trained, it is much harder for them than it is for dogs. These foxes, while captive all their lives, are still wild animals. Bonding with the fox is an important part of the training process. “The fox has to love and respect you. If it doesn’t love you,” she explained, “it’s not going to do anything for you.”
One of the first commands each fox learns is “treat.” Not all of the foxes get along with each other, so different groups play at different times. “We want them to come to ‘treat’ explained Raines. “We’re able to get them back in their cage just by saying ‘treat.’”
One of the rescue’s training successes is an adult fox is named Envy. Envy was their first adult rescue.
“Adults rescues … are never social,” said Raines. “She takes treats out of our hands now.”
At first, a volunteer with a chair and book would sit in Envy’s cage and read aloud for an hour. The goal was for Envy to get used to someone both being present and talking.
“She was really nervous at first,” said Raines. “She stayed in the corner.” Gradually, toys and treats were introduced. Envy now sits in laps as long as she isn’t touched. “She’s not nervous,” said Raines. “She is a happy fox.”
Fur farm misfits
While Raines is rescuing foxes from fur farms, she is doing so with assistance from those farms. She receives a phone call when there is a fox in need.
“When they have pups that are rejected … they’re going to die anyway.” So Raines rescues those pups. The same goes for foxes with mange who would be culled to prevent spreading the infection, or any fox the farm wouldn’t profit from.
“I get the misfits, and the rejects, and the ones that aren’t healthy,” said Raines.
“We’ve gotten a few that we adopted out that didn’t have tails either,” said Raines. “That’s the most valuable part of the fox … we’ll get the tailless ones often.”
Winter is harvest season for fur farms, the time at which the animals have thick fur coats. “If they’re getting sick in the summer and they look like they’re not going to make it, they’re worthless [to the farm].”
But even though the farm might not want them, the farm cannot just send the fox on its way.
“You can’t release captive red foxes into the wild,” said Raines. It is against the law, and captive foxes are biologically different from their wild counterparts.
Save A Fox Rescue foxes are either adopted out or stay with the rescue. Raines does not breed the foxes; all animals are fixed. The goal of the rescue is to have a location to keep the foxes and then adopt them out. “We’re going to make sure that they are going to go someplace where they are going to stay.”
The rescue has strict adoption guidelines. There are background checks, ensuring it is legal to have the animal in their location, and making sure there is a nearby veterinarian who will take foxes.
“I call all the vets that [prospective adopters] list to be sure they really do have a vet that can see the fox,” said Raines. In some states, such as Texas, owning a fox is illegal.
Raines also checks to see how the fox will be housed after adoption. Applicants commonly state they will use a fenced area. “Foxes can dig under a chain link fence within minutes … and climb right up and over the fence in a second.” Even with a chain link fence, additional barriers are needed at the bottom and top of the fences to keep a fox in.
Adoptions also depend on whether or not the fox can be socialized. “We realize when there’s a fox that comes through here that’s not going to make the best pet,” said Raines. “This fox might have to be sponsored and stay here.”
One of those permanent foxes is Casper. “Casper’s sponsor lives in Florida,” said Raines. “It’s her fox and she’s boarding it here.” Sponsors can come visit and play with their fox at the rescue.
On the move
Save A Fox Rescue quickly outgrew its Lakeville residential property.
“We have a limit in this city, which is why we are moving.”
Her goal is to expand to include both farm rescues and owner surrenders. The rescue is in the process of moving to a new three-and-a-half-acre property near Faribault, with fencing on the entire perimeter.
“I feel like I’ve been doing this forever,” said Raines, “We’ve already progressed so much from last year.” She smiled.
“I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings us.”
Anna Matetic is a local writer. She lives in Rochester with her husband and a ginger cat named Fox. There are no plans to add a fox named Cat.
Basic Fox Care
• Combine grain-free cat and dog food
• Adult foxes require raw meat (eggs, deer meat, raw fish) every other day
• Unlike dogs, foxes can digest bones
• Foxes are high energy
• Play with your fox at least an hour a day
• For “house” foxes, two walks in morning and evening help keep them calmer
There is an immediate need for volunteers with skills and tools to help build for the relocation. After Save A Fox moves to its new home, there will be opportunities to work with the foxes.