April 2012 and I saw a fox in our deck garden. It's a fenced yard and I thought how wondrous as it sat and sunned itself, almost seeming to take a nap. I felt both thrilled and amazed that the wild had invaded our groomed space. It acted almost as though it was its own backyard... Keep that thought in mind.
We left the farm here not long after the sighting as we had work to do in Tucson on our house there. We were gone a month or so. When we came back, we began to be concerned that something had died in our solarium which is a small room off the house that was a porch we had enclosed. When the smell went away, we forgot about the problem... for awhile.
We pick our story back up in spring of 2013 when we finally had what we felt was a secure outside enclosure for our cats. It was with the goal of keeping them in the deck yard with enough space for them to feel they were having a wilds experience but not so much that they could get out to the gravel road while pursuing a frog, bird, mouse, etc. and end up killed by a passing vehicle.
With spring I began to think I wanted another space enclosed-- what most would call the front yard as it is toward the road but we have a rather confusing home arrangement where what is the front door never gets used by anybody-- people come in through the backdoor to the utility room or through the french door leading to our deck. It's a farm though where driveways relate more to farm use than people.
Farm Boss set out to make that yard secure and about the time he was finishing it, when we set up a picnic table there, a cat door and encouraged our cats to use it, we had also begun to see a pair of foxes. They weren't frightened. They watched us as though we were the intruders. Keep that thought in mind.
When the pair appeared again in the supposedly 'safe' cat yard, Farm Boss set about making the fence higher and more secure. Didn't work. Foxes were still there and we were glad we had the new frontyard that we thought of as a backyard for the cats as although foxes don't choose fights with grown cats, these were obviously trained killers and one of our cats, Blackie, feels a responsibility to guard the property seeming to know no fear.
It was when Farm Boss watched one of the foxes, outside the fenced enclosure climb into a magnolia, get a bird out of it,take it to the orchard to kill and then... leap over our secure fence to bring it into the enclosed front/backyard, now to be known as deck yard. Why would a fox take its prey into a people enclosed yard to eat it?
The fox showed up one day right outside the new fenced garden and both the cat and it stared at each other. Pepper was wise enough to slam through the cat door at a fast run which is why I knew what was going on. I yelled at the fox. It looked at me with curiosity. I then picked up a rock and loosely tossed it over the fence hoping it would scare it off. It ran to it to see what it was. Clearly some humans had been feeding it. Finally I used the hose and when it got sprayed, it left but didn't run far.
Those two experiences pretty much told us something was going on here that we didn't want. Shortly after we found out what it was when Farm Boss put a live trap near where we now believed they were living in the narrow crawlspace under our solarium. The next morning a fox was in it. Farm Boss poked a stick back in the space he had thought too small for any fox to get into and heard a growl.
So here we were with the illusion we were building a higher fence to keep the foxes out and protect our cats... except the foxes were determined to get in because this was their home. That garden was theirs too. The safety of our cats had been an illusion.
We knew foxes mate in winter or early spring. The odds now were that this pair had pups in the crawlspace under our solarium. We did some online research and found from the time the pups were born, it takes two months to become grown enough to be on their own. It's not hard to understand why the parents chose where they did. It's dry, secure and last year with us gone, it was quiet. Foxes are wonderful hunters and predators but also prey for the bigger predators. We have a safe area-- especially when we weren't there.
It's kind of neat to think you share your living space with a family of foxes, and there was a momentary thought, fleeting, that if we could fence our cats securely away from them they could stay. No, that's crazy. Not only do foxes potentially carry rabies, but they are wild things. They need to be afraid of humans who can endanger them.
New plan. Let the trapped fox go out by the old, downed barn with the admonition that it'd be a great spot for a den. Since they have been here, the rodent population has been way down. Yes, they kill birds but only to eat, not for fun. We would love them to stay but not under the solarium with putrifying smells in that room as they don't eat every bite of what they kill.
When Farm Boss got ready to release the trapped fox, which he thinks was the male, he had a careless moment and got bit through the wire and his leather gloves. Fortunately a graze more than a deep bite, and it healed fine. It is a reminder that they will attack when feeling threatened.
Trying to find out exactly what was going on, we set up our wildlife camera with a view to their exit door from the crawlspace. Got some great pictures and the possibility that the mother took her babies elsewhere-- to a securer life or so she hopes. Wildlife cams that flash at night are obviously not regarded as friendly and since the trapping in the cage, the foxes have been more wary of us.
I feel sorry for predators as their life is not an easy one. These little foxes are awesome predators as you can see if you look at the slideshow below. They are also so cute, but my priority is my cats. The foxes have to stop denning up under our home, but whether they already have, we will give them a reprieve of two months to raise those pups if they are still here-- darling pups and I so relate to the struggle these animals face.
In the meantime-- are we deluding ourselves that we can make this less attractive near our home where they have been dry, warm and felt safe from bobcats, coyotes, cougar and bears? Keeping out an animal that can jump and climb as well as they can is not easy. Having been fed by other humans makes it even harder.
The story might be over... or maybe not.