The Night of the Foxes

By Erika K. Yery, licensed wildlife rehabilitator

March 31: After delightful spring days and typical March days, winter returned with great fury. Winds were howling, up to 70 miles an hour and the snow covered the spring flowers and lawns. The phone started ringing early in the morning with wildlife-in-distress calls. I spent the day between caring for animals checking my outdoor cages, re-attaching the tarps that are used to cover the exposed parts of the cages during inclement weather, checking on the status of my trees, which looked like they might be uprooted at any time, and listening to the radio for reports on the weather.

Again and again, the announcers kept warning the public not to drive unless it was an absolute emergency. I had planned to get gas for my jeep, as it was very low on fuel, and I had not followed my usual rule to always fill up when the tank neared half-empty. Finally the messages got more urgent, asking the public not to drive - especially cars such as jeeps that do not do well in high winds. I decided not to leave the house and to forget about the gas until the storm cleared.

In late afternoon a call came in, referred by the Wildlife Rescue League Hotline, about a fox in a window well. I talked to the lady who called to get more information, and she told me that it looked like a baby fox and that an adult fox had not been seen in several days. She did not know how long the kit had been in the window well. I called Ann Hocker to see if she could check on the situation, as she is our fox expert and I consult with her when I need expert advice.

Ann was ready to go out on another fox rescue and a raccoon rescue in the Loudon County area. Meanwhile, the weather got worse, and darkness set in early. The lady called me again and told me that the fox kit was very active, jumping up and down trying to get out of the window well. She'd noticed another fox kit that looked as though it was near death. I knew there was no choice but to go and rescue the animals. As I started to get directions to drive to the lady's house, she mentioned that her house and the whole area of Annandale had been without electricity all afternoon and it was very difficult to see street signs. She agreed to meet me in the Hechingers parking lot, off Braddock Road and Little River Turnpike.

I started to load the large cage into my Prelude, but could not get it to fit, so there was no choice but to take the jeep that was low on gas. I loaded the cage, flashlight, blankets, hot ricebag, animal gloves, and emergency medical supplies into the jeep and off I went with great reluctance. At times I thought the jeep would turn over as great gusts of wind swept across the highway.

Mrs. Sylvester was already waiting for me in the parking lot and I was relieved that she was able to guide me to her house, as the snow started to come down harder and harder, roads were treacherous, and the wind refused to slow down. Mr. Sylvester was waiting for us in the dark family room, from which high up - almost near the ceiling - a window was visible. With two flashlights, we were able to spot a dirty but frisky fox kit that periodically kept leaping up towards the outdoors. It turned out that this window was under a deck that was enclosed all around and the vixen must have dug under it to find a safe place to rear her kits. She had not been seen in days and the people were not aware of the kits until that day, as they did not use the family room very often. They had seen a fox in the yard but did not know about the kits.

It was impossible to get to the window well from the outside so a way had to be found to open the window from the family room. It was permanently sealed with screws and could not be opened; also it was high up and could only be I reached by standing on a ladder. Mr. Sylvester started to get his power tools to pry open the window, but then we remembered that there was no electricity! Working in near darkness with only two flashlights, we decided on breaking the window to get the animals.

It seemed like an eternity, but finally managed to open the window a few inches and I climbed up on the ladder to get a good look at the situation. There was a little one that actually looked like a fox already, so I knew it had to be about six to eight weeks old, as they look more like kittens when younger. The second fox was lying in a comer, not moving. I worked out a plan where Mr. Sylvester would hold up the cage as I stood on the ladder. Mrs. Sylvester held the flashlights and I was to grab the foxes, put them in the cage, and close it quickly. As fox number one jumped up again, I grabbed him and the transfer worked smoothly.

Fox number two was really easy to pick up as it was not moving. There in the corner was fox number three, in even worse condition than fox number two! The Sylvesters were very grateful and guided me to the Springfield Emergency Clinic where I thought I could get support with the very listless animals. Lucky for all of us, Dr. Segal was on duty, and was delighted to get to treat fox kits. Together, we did a quick examination and emergency treatment, and found out that we had three vixens! Dr. Segal put them into a heating chamber and told me she would work with them during the night after the domestic animals were taken care of. I had to pick them up before 7 a.m. when she got off work. Meanwhile, it was past 2 in the morning and the storm had not calmed down. I drove the beltway, forgetting I was almost out of gas and only grateful that the animals were safe.

At 5 AM I got up and noticed that it was spring again. The storm was a bad dream, or so it seemed. I took care of my animals and drove back to Springfield to pick up the vixens. They were doing well; even number three was in fair condition. At home I gave them large bowls of Esbilac laced with Nutrical and Science Diet, as well as water with Electrolytes to build up their strength. I left them alone to get some deserved rest. That evening, as I cleaned the cage and checked on the vixens, I noticed that every morsel had been eaten and they were doing well. During the night, my guests devoured chicken legs, grapes, and more Esbilac, and they became very active, playing and having a great time.

During the following months, they developed well and turned into beautiful foxes - showing no sign of the near -death experience they had had while kits. They were the first guests at a new fox release cage that was constructed that spring, and they were released at a perfect and safe site where food is provided year-round in rural Virginia.

I just visited my friends, where the vixens have been released, and was told that they still come to the feeder. To prove the point, they showed me a video of the three beautiful vixens, with luxurious coats and tails, enjoying freedom and hopefully a long and safe life in this magnificent Virginia refuge.