Monday, September 9, 2013

The Mangy Fox

While I was in DC, excitement was happenin' at home. Early in the week the dogs started a fox, near the business storage sheds across the street. They hared off after him, naturally. Suzanne was walking them, and they didn't respond to her recall at first. But they didn't chase him far, I guess, before they came back. As Suzanne tells it, the fox ran into our own yard, and stopped at the top of the hill, just outside the dog fence. And then just stood there and surveyed the yard, as if it were his own.

As she described the fox, he was mangy, and thin, with a rat tail (no hair on his tail). Definitely not looking good. So she kept the cats in. The fox seemed to be hanging about, and she was worried about the cats - that he might be stalking them.

End of the week, and I come home. I'm willing to let the dogs out to seek fox. I have enough faith they will come home, and we don't want this guy hanging about. The cats are more outdoor than indoor, even though we make sure they are inside at night. Tommy cat is not happy staying inside, and Trina is more nervous than usual. Kept inside they would bug us. Too much nervous energy.

So, Thursday evening, and I take the dogs out fox hunting. We circle the edges of the back yard, then head across the street to the business sheds and the patch of woods behind them. Our usual run route passes directly behind this small patch of trees and shrubs. We see nothing.

Friday morning, and Tommy is jumping on all the bookshelves and whatnot with energy to spare. Trina I let outside, in the dog yard. She is reliable, and generally stays in the yard, and shows cautious fear appropriately, like for traffic, or strange dogs. Tommy, I know, will go across the street soon after he is let out. His territory is larger, and one of his fav hangouts is exactly where the dogs first flushed the fox. I take the dogs out, to "scope" the area. No sooner do I get outside, then Klinger sights something across the front yard and bolts. He is in full-on visual chase acceleration. Sara follows him, close behind. They have flushed the fox from the front yard - very near the side entrance to the dog yard, where Trina is.

I see a red blur escape across the road, in full flight, with the dogs close behind. I go to the dog yard and check on Trina. She is in quiet, cautious, attentive pose, keeping a small profile - so I know she had seen the fox. The dogs are stalled across the street, milling about. I get my bike so I can follow, and head across the street.

I don't get far. The dogs had lost the fox at the first storage building. They don't seem to have any idea where to head from here. But that is fine with me. My intent is not to catch the fox, but just to chase him away so he goes somewhere else to live.

Saturday evening, and we run another check, at dusk. Back yard, clear. Cross the street, and the dogs head straight for that first shed. I can see no likely entry or exit, no foxhole. The smell around and explore, eagerly. As I move farther down towards the other end of the shed row, I see a brown blur heading around the other end of the building. The dogs haven't seen a thing, so I round them up and go to the other side of the building and the big field there. They mill about again, very interested, but not really finding anything. I am quite sure the blur was the fox - it was the right size, but the light is failing. It is almost dark, and it is too dark to see color. Finding nothing, we head home.

On Sunday, we head out for our usual run, which, as I said, passes these places where the fox was spotted. I take the dogs around the back yard before we go, to run a fox check. We check the other places as we pass them, but turn up nothing.

On the way home from our run, a walker flags me down. He is eager to warn me of the "mangy fox, with a ratty tail" that he, and other guests at the hostel next door saw on Saturday. One hostel guest even left out a bit of hot dog for the fox to eat (oh, lord, some people are idiots about wild critters). He describes the fox as odd in appearance, unusually bold and calm ("like it was a pet"), and mangy. The description fits with Suzanne's. I haven't seen enough besides a blur to know anything myself.

So, all week I go out at least once a day on a "fox hunt". No further sightings, but the dogs are "critter alerting" in the middle of the night, every single night. I get up and let them out - no critters spotted. The cats stay in, mostly. I let Trina out, but she stays out a couple of hours, then comes back inside for the day.

If the fox is rabid, as he might be from the "bold" description of his behavior, he shouldn't last much longer than a week. So, on Friday, a week after I got in this, I run a fox check in the morning, then I let Tommy out. He'll come in for a midday snack, and we will close the door then. We follow this pattern through the weekend. On Sunday morning, I'm running the morning fox check, and I meet a neighbor who is about to walk her dog. She lives farther down the road, about half a mile from my house.

I tell her I've got the dogs out on a "fox check". She reports seeing a fox a few days earlier. The description is the same: mangy. I ask "rat tail?", and she answers "Yeah!". But this is farther down the road, so that is probably good.

On Sunday night, as Graeme is driving to work, he sights the fox - or one of a similar description: a mangy fox with a rat tail. By the way, a fox's fur is frequently poor in the summer, but a healthy fox would still have a good coat, and a full bushy tail. A hairless, ratty tail is unusual. Where Graeme has spotted the fox is closer to where the neighbor lives and spotted him. It is a little further down the road, but the road turns up the hill there, so through the woods it is about the same distance as the neighbor's house. Still less than a mile away, or maybe a mile. But it is a little ways, and hopefully enough. I'll continue to run fox checks before we let the cats out. There is a good side to the additional sighting: the fox is likely not rabid. There is a bad side, as well. He isn't that far away that he might not be at our house hunting. "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!"

Next week: Wild Concord grapes - an excellent year!

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