My New Pet Fox

When my daughter Leigh was little, she was deathly afraid of foxes. I don’t know why. I can’t believe it was from watching “The Fox and the Hound,” because what fox could be cuter and less threatening than Tod?

I suspect her fear had more to do with the First Little Golden Book version of Richard Scarry’s “The Gingerbread Man,” published in 1975. Though the clever gingerbread man manages to outrun the little old woman and the little old man, the cow at the well and two picnicking bears, he can’t manage to outfox the wily creature who offers to help him escape across the river. “Hop on my tail, and I’ll carry you across,” the sly fox offers. The gingerbread man, seeing that he has no time to lose, quickly hops onto the fox’s tail. As the water gets deeper, the fox persuades the gingerbread man to climb on his back and then his head and—finally—out to the tip of his nose.

Anyone over the age of two knows the rest of the story.  Poor gingerbread man.

Now that Leigh is grown with book-loving children of her own, children who love for me to read them the very same copy of “The Gingerbread Man” I read to their mother, I occasionally ask her what she had against foxes. The answer is usually a dramatic eye roll. But when I remind her that she would never let me read her an unfamiliar book until I’d checked every page to be sure there was no fox on it, she didn’t disagree.

That’s why I’m so looking forward to Leigh’s upcoming visit to Cookeville, because a huge treat awaits her. A red fox lives in my yard!

I shouldn’t be surprised. A yard without dogs won’t be empty of critters for long, especially if you live near the woods. Since the passing of my sweet Sophie in 2018 and sweet Iniesta last June, wild creatures I’d never before seen on my property have apparently decided to make themselves right at home.

One is a fat groundhog who hangs out in the drainage pipe that runs from my driveway all the way across the front yard. This column isn’t about him. I’ve written about groundhogs at least half a dozen times over the past several years, which is more than enough. But this is the first time in the six years I’ve been living in this house that I’ve seen a fox.

It’s happened three times, and though I can’t be sure it was the same fox, I’m guessing it was. Foxes are solitary creatures that don’t run in packs. My first reaction, after surprise, was to think it’s very, very cool to have a fox in the yard.  But not all that unusual. Foxes inhabit the entire continental United States, from Alaska to Florida. Foxes are so adaptable that they live not only in forests and grasslands but in cities, suburbs and farms, where they’re seldom welcome.

My second reaction was worry. Was my fox rabid? She (I’m calling her a girl, though that’s only a guess) didn’t seem to be. She wasn’t weaving or stumbling or turning in circles or foaming at the mouth like Ole Yeller. But then I thought about Watson, my mighty hunter cat who strikes fear in the heart of every mouse and rabbit and squirrel who dares to cross his path. Watson is brave, but he’s no match for a fox. Would she hurt him? Probably not. Foxes seek easy prey—mice, rabbits and squirrels, for instance—and are unlikely to tangle with healthy adult cats.

And so I welcome this new visitor. I’ve named her Ginger, partly because she’s redheaded and partly in memory of the dear departed gingerbread man. I can hardly wait for Leigh to meet her.

(October 10, 2020)