Sunday, October 26, 2014

Helping Sick Red Foxes In The Suburbs

Fox families have appeared in our Brookfield neighborhood in recent years.  Sadly, parents and kits often develop a parasitic condition called mange that is deadly if infected animals go untreated. Sometimes foxes nest in culverts which probably seem perfect—until it rains.  Then their dens become breeding grounds for disease.

In late spring, our neighbor Laverne began seeing a mature fox in her yard.  It was  limping, scrawny, appeared hungry, and had mange, which is indicated by thin, grayish fur and excessive scratching. Normally, fox fur is thick and red.  In addition, Chelsea at the Wildlife In Need center said mange attacks areas between the toes and makes it painful for the animal to walk, causing lameness.

Laverne began cutting raw chicken off the bone and putting it outside for the fox, which ate it eagerly and usually came several times a day.  As time went by, its limp worsened; Laverne could see both front paws were infected, and one was swollen. Soon a younger fox began arriving with the adult.  It too had the mange.  Each fox also drank from the ground-level birdbath we have in our yard; the older one usually held its sorest paw aloft and hobbled on three legs.

Workers in another neighbor's yard told me they saw Laverne feeding the foxes, and I mentioned this to Chelsea.  Because they were accepting food, Chelsea thought it might be possible to trap them. She said the Elmbrook Humane Society provided traps obtained from Waukesha's Humane Animal Welfare Society. I contacted Laverne, she agreed to help, and we employed the following method:

1.    To get the foxes comfortable with the trap, we set it near where Laverne was placing food, and I wired the door open so it couldn't close accidentally and scare the foxes;

2.    Day by day we placed chicken pieces closer to the trap;

3.    Eventually, we put a few pieces just inside so the foxes had to stick their heads in to eat;

4.    With the door still wired in the open position, we moved the food toward the back of the trap, until each fox had to enter all the way to get it; and

5.    Finally, I set the trap, and Laverne put chicken slices in a rear corner so the fox had to step on a floor-mounted panel that caused the door to close.

It took about a week, but eventually we trapped both foxes and took them to the WIN center.  Naturally, it's best not to feed wildlife, but these animals were sick and needed human help to survive.  We gave them a chance.

Caution: Chelsea informs me that if animals are emaciated, feeding them too much might cause other problems. If you see hungry or sick wildlife, contact WIN and seek expert advice before taking action.  This will improve the odds of a happy ending.

Many thanks to the kind and knowledgeable people who work at WIN, EHS, and HAWS.   

The foxes are doing well now as the attached photos show. 


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