A startling morning

At first, it seemed like just another morning — David Scott, a 45-year-old engineer from a suburb near Cheshire, brought his son out to the backyard to play. But as the pair was about to open the door, they noticed something that froze them in their tracks.

strange animal, animal in the backyard, what is it
RSPCA

Staring back at them was something they’d never seen before. Could it be some sort of strange dog or cat? No, it didn’t look like any kind of dog or cat they’d seen before. It wasn’t a raccoon either. What could it be?

A wild animal?

When they locked eyes with the creature, it seemed just as surprised to see them as they were to see it. Scott and his son weren’t about to leave their yard to approach it immediately, since they still had no idea what the animal was.

out in the backyard, wandering animal
RSPCA

After the initial shock the animal must have felt at seeing some humans staring at it, it seemed to relax and began approaching the sliding glass door. While this clearly wasn’t any kind of domesticated creature David and his partner Anna McArdle had seen before, it didn’t seem exactly frightened by humans either.

The initial shock turned to curiosity 

“He’d gone out with the baby and I heard him shouting that there’s a wild animal and he was a bit panicked by it,” Anna McArdle said. The strange animal appeared somewhat similar in shape to a fox, but the animal had black-and-silver fur.

strange animal with paw up, what is it?
RSPCA

When the creature started to make itself at home in the family’s backyard, leisurely relaxing underneath their picnic table, McArdle thought she’d better do something. To get help, she turned to what seemed like an unlikely place — Facebook.

It wasn’t going anywhere

Anna McArdle was confused — not only by what this strange animal was, but also how best to proceed. She knew the animal couldn’t stay in the backyard forever, but she was also concerned about its safety.

animal standing sideways, against the wall
RSPCA

After all, this could still be someone’s pet (however strange it seemed). By posting a picture and plea for help, McArdle was promptly contacted by someone from an organization that would know just what to do — the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

The Facebook post

It’s not every day you wake up to an unknown animal making itself at home in your backyard. At first, Anna McArdle thought it was just a lost dog that had wandered into their yard, but then she got a good look at the animal’s tail.

standing by the wall, creeping, in the backyard
RSPCA

The bushy tail clearly was unlike any dog’s she’d ever seen. Her Facebook post helped RSPCA inspector Amanda Lovett identify exactly what animal this was — but even she found the answer hard to believe!

An extremely rare animal

The RSPCA inspector was shocked when she saw the animal. This was an incredibly rare find — a silver fox. A melanistic form of the red fox, silver foxes have been hunted near extinction because of their sought-after pelts.

silver fox indoors, fox, rare animal
Artyom Geodakyan/TASS via Getty Images

Based on what she saw, Amanda Lovett began to suspect that this particular fox had a very strange origin story.

Whose fox is this?

Wild foxes are known for their mischievous nature and craftiness — this is because the carnivorous animal has to be clever to find its next meal. Cunning hunters, foxes seek out small rodents, rabbits, and reptiles to feast upon.

hanging out on box, looking at camera
RSPCA

Lovett immediately noticed something odd about this particular fox (besides the color of its fur) — it was slightly overweight, which is practically unheard of in the wild. This fox was likely someone’s pet.

The fox’s behavior was also strange

Another odd thing the family noticed about the fox was that it didn’t seem startled by humans. In fact, the fox appeared to be trying to enter David Scott’s home! The creature seemed very determined.

silver fox, close up, strange animal
RSPCA

The fox’s behavior suggested that it had been domesticated to the point where it didn’t fear being in close proximity to humans. Well, at least this means it shouldn’t be hard to catch, right?

They had to proceed with caution

Domesticated or not, foxes are difficult creatures to wrangle. Worse than that, you never know what the animal went through in the wild — they’re susceptible to deadly infections and diseases like rabies and other viruses.

fox in the grass, find the fox, catch the fox
RSPCA

Also, if an animal is wounded and desperate, they sometimes will lash out at their potential captors, even if the person only wants to help them. The RSPCA had to think fast to find a way to catch this rare beast.

They employed an interesting tactic

The fox seemed really interested in getting into David Scott’s home. Amanda Lovett and her colleagues at the RSPCA decided this was something they could use to their advantage.

close up of fox, fox on the tile, backyard
RSPCA

Thinking quickly, they formulated a plan: They would try to lure the animal into the utility room and cut off all escape routes. From there, it should be easy to capture the fox.

Their success was vital for the fox’s safety

As someone who cares deeply for animals, Amanda Lovett had to be feeling the pressure. Today was Nov. 5th. Known as Bonfire Night, this holiday is host to one of the biggest fireworks displays of the year.

Guy Fawkes, fireworks, dangerous
Image by Teesside Archive/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

While fireworks are something most of us humans enjoy, the same thing cannot be said for most animals. Sadly, the loud noises and flashing lights are frightening and confusing to pets. Every holiday where fireworks are commonly used, animal shelters report a spike in reports of pets going missing. For this fox’s well-being, it was important they capture it, fast.

Success!

Their plan worked perfectly. Lovett was able to lure the fox into the small utility room and shoo it into a cat box. They contacted the Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre to prepare the facility for a strange new guest — the center even agreed to stay open late to accommodate their new friend.

locked up fox, caught the fox, got him
RSPCA

Everyone was startled by how calm, quiet, and tame the fox appeared to be. It certainly wasn’t behaving like a wild animal. As they became increasingly attached to the friendly creature, they decided to give it an appropriate name.

A fox named Shadow

Named for his uniquely colored pelt, the friendly fox was given the name Shadow. Calm, docile, and friendly, Shadow quickly became a favorite among the staff at the wildlife center.

Daily Mail via Youtube

As they cared for the new animal, they started to form more and more questions about the animal. Where had he come from? Sadly, foxes like Shadow are often bred for their pelts — but Shadow seemed oddly tame, like he’d been someone’s exotic pet. But who did Shadow belong to?

Attempting to find the owner

There weren’t too many ways Shadow could have found his way to David Scott’s backyard. Either he’d escaped from his owner’s care, or he’d been abandoned by an owner who had gotten in over their head by adopting a wild pet.

closeup of fox by wall, silver fox, captured animal
RSPCA

Based on the way the fox was reacting to the humans, the caretakers were positive this animal had been domesticated. Wild foxes are naturally fearful of humans — foxes approaching humans and allowing themselves to be handled is learned behavior. The staff decided to check whether the fox had been microchipped …

Could they find any clues?

Unfortunately, Shadow had not been wearing a collar that would identify his owners and help his rescuers contact them. Many owners will fit their animals with a microchip that enables animal shelters to scan them and locate the owner.

fox in the backyard, tile, yard, silver fox
RSPCA

The staff scanned Shadow, but he had no microchip. All the caretakers could do was post Shadow’s picture online and hope someone would come looking.

An incredibly rare find

Despite a few extra pounds, Shadow seemed to be in pretty good shape. The staff at the wildlife center were all shocked to meet their new friend. It wasn’t just a surprise for David Scott and his family to have Shadow as a guest — the caretakers at Stapeley Grange were equally surprised!

fox in backyard, silver fox, fox on box
RSPCA

Lee Stewart, the manager of Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre, said that Shadow “is the first silver fox we have ever had here at Stapeley Grange, in nearly 25 years we have been open.”

Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre

In the quarter century the Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre has been open, they’ve seen all kinds of animals come through their doors (except for a silver fox, present company excluded). 

volunteers, wildlife center, RSPCA
RSPCA Stapeley Grange via Facebook

The wildlife center takes in thousands of animals per year — orphaned or injured owls, hedgehogs, bats, and even seals have been rehabilitated at Stapeley Grange.

Why are silver foxes so rare?

Silver foxes are just a variation of the common red fox. However, their dark coloring — usually some mixture of black and silver — makes them highly desirable to the fur industry. Sadly, most silver foxes are bred in captivity to make fur coats.

high five fox, domesticated fox, silver fox
Artyom Geodakyan/TASS via Getty Images

Silver foxes’ defining characteristic is also a recessive trait, which makes them even more rare, as they do not only breed with other silver foxes — except when kept in captivity.

Foxes don’t make great pets

There’s a good reason most people don’t keep foxes as pets. Namely, they’re wild animals. Though foxes like Shadow can be trained to some degree, they have not been domesticated over centuries through breeding the way cats and dogs have been.

fox in a tree, hiding fox, snarling fox
Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Most people that care for foxes do not consider them pets — they usually come to care for the animals as part of a rehabilitation program after injured foxes are rescued in the wild. While foxes can be adoring, they’re somewhat aloof and prefer to show affection on their own terms. While it’s perfectly legal to own a fox in England, there are plenty of challenges …

Foxes can be quite destructive

When entering someone’s house that cares for foxes, the first thing you’re likely to notice is an arresting smell. The musky aroma is just one way you’ll immediately notice that these animals are wild.

foxes wrestling, outdoor foxes, wild animals
Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

People that keep foxes often complain that they have a tendency to wreak havoc around the house, ripping up anything they can get their teeth or claws on. While not particularly aggressive toward humans, they can bite or lash out if they feel threatened, making them less than ideal for homes with children. Still, many people find the process of raising foxes rewarding …

Rehabilitating foxes

The RSPCA warns against caring for foxes, stating that, “Foxes are wild animals, their needs are very specific and require specialist care.” But for those with enough space, patience, and dedication to care for these wild animals, they can’t imagine life without them around.

sniffing around, silver fox, in backyard
RSPCA

Many rescue centers that care for foxes intend to release the animals back into the wild after they heal from their injuries. This means the staff has to take extra care not to treat the furry creatures as pets. Shadow’s docile and trusting behavior would not do him any favors in the wild.

Shadow won’t be released into the wild

Because Shadow has clearly spent so much time under the watchful care of humans, it’s unlikely he’d be able to survive without humans caring for him. Based on the way he tried so hard to get into David Scott’s home, it’s unlikely this prospect bothers him too much.

fox by dog bowl, fox sniffing, hungry fox
Daily Mail via Youtube

But this presents a new problem — if the staff at Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre can’t find Shadow’s owner, where will the fox end up?

Shadow found a home 

While the staff at Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre were unable to locate Shadow’s owner, they were able to find him a loving new home. Shadow will be transferred to an area where he can get all the care he needs.

standing by the wall, Shadow the fox, closeup
RSPCA

Specialized caretakers are equipped to handle foxes — giving them all the space they need to roam, and providing the necessary medical attention and a healthy diet an adult fox needs to thrive in captivity.

Caring for foxes

There is no shortage of people that care for foxes in Britain. Animal lovers such as Richard Bowler have found themselves drawn to the mischievous predator’s charm. The wildlife photographer first became enthralled with the animal after photographing them while on assignment.

fox hug, silver fox, caring for fox
Artyom Geodakyan/TASS via Getty Images

“The first time you get a fox in your lens, there is just something about it,” Bowler told The Telegraph. “When you get to know foxes, it’s almost like you can read their moods. They almost talk to you with their vocalizations.” 

Fascinating yet polarizing creatures

What is it about foxes that seems to interest people so much? While seen as a nuisance to many farmers who constantly have to devise ways to keep foxes from getting to their livestock, the rest of us seem to look at the crafty creatures with admiration.

fox in the woods, fox approaching, walking fox
Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

There’s good reason for people to be wary of foxes when their livelihood is threatened. A cunning predator, red foxes are able to adapt and survive in a variety of conditions. Brought to Australia in the 19th century for hunting, they quickly spread out — reproducing at a rapid rate and unbalancing the ecosystem, earning them the classification as an invasive species. But hey, we can’t hold all that against an individual animal like Shadow — he’s just doing his best.

Different foxes from around the world — the Fennec Fox

The red fox is the image that usually appears when you think of a fox, but there are many different kinds in all corners of the world. The Sahara desert — one of the most brutal climates in the world — is home to the Fennec Fox.

Fennec fox, sahara, big ears
Kestrel via Wikimedia Commons

The Fennec Fox’s abnormally large ears keep them cool, as they’re full of blood vessels. As blood flows to their giant ears, it cools down by traveling away from their core. Their furry skin keeps them warm at night when the temperature dips below freezing, but their fur is light colored to keep them from burning up in the intense heat.

The grey fox

This cute Canid is found throughout North and Central America. Unlike other species of fox, these critters are adept climbers, able to leap up branchless trees much like their close relative, the raccoon. The grey fox hunts small rodents, rabbits, and birds, but it’s also happy to snack on fruit and insects.

Grey fox, hunter, North America, Central America
California Department of Water Resources via Wikimedia Commons

Grey foxes create dens in rocky crevices and logs. Sometimes, they’ll repurpose woodchuck holes as their dens, which they use during mating season or to raise their young. Male and female grey foxes are typically monogamous and mate with one another every year.

The Arctic fox

Another type of fox, you can probably guess where to find the Arctic fox. These poofy, white foxes are perfectly adapted to below-freezing temperatures. Often feeding on lemmings and voles, the Arctic fox displays some entertaining hunting behavior, leaping high in the air and landing face-first in the snow to catch their prey.

Arctic fox, hunter, small ears, white fox
skeeze via Pixabay

During the non-winter months, the fox will typically gather most of its food by scavenging the leftovers of larger predators such as polar bears. They’ll often gather geese eggs and store them for eating during the winter when food supply runs low.

The mythology of foxes

Many ancient cultures all over the world use the fox as a symbol in mythology and folklore. In ancient Greek mythology, the Teumessian fox was a giant fox sent to Thebes by Dionysus to punish the people for a crime they had committed.  Amphitryon and his hunting dog Laelaps were sent to hunt the fox.

fox on a fence, red fox, mythical fox
Jim Dyson via Getty Images

Laelaps was able to catch any prey, while the Teumessian fox was impossible to catch. This created a paradox that soon drew the attention of Zeus, who turned both animals to stone and then constellations; The Teumessian Fox became the Canis Minor and Laelaps became the Canis Major.

The mythology of foxes part 2

In ancient Chinese mythology, the fox spirit or nine-tailed fox is an important motif. The nine-tailed fox is a mischievous shapeshifter that often takes the form of a beautiful woman to seduce men to capture their vital energy, similar to a vampire. 

fox painting, ancient fox, mythology
Unknown painter via Wikimedia Commons

They’re not always depicted as evil, however. Many stories depict the fox spirit as generous and helpful in their dealings with humans they care for. Thus, foxes could be viewed as either good or bad omens in ancient Chinese culture.