kit

Kit, the office fox.

So I was reading about that legislative candidate in Wilmington who had his female employees wrestle in a tub of grits for a promotion. And –

And, you know what? The hell with him. Let’s talk about foxes.

Sleek red-furred foxes live among us, on hills in wooded areas and even under house porches and sheds. While we’re snoring, they trot around on dark, soft-padded feet, long, thick tails trailing behind them, pert ears rotating as they prepare to pounce onto mice and voles. They screech at each other as if they were Billy Corgan. Then they sleep away the day the way we might if we could. February is nesting season, during which vixens are likely to hide away in underground dens while giving birth. In a few weeks, we may start catching glimpses of little balls of chocolate fur with bewildered expressions on their faces.

In recent months, I’ve become obsessed with these graceful, playful beauties. I’ve read books about their lives, watched hundreds of YouTube videos and sought stories of local encounters. Those I’ve heard are much like mine.

I’ve only caught quick glimpses of foxes myself; once, about two years ago while walking in Old Salem and another time last year while walking in Quarry Park. But I think about them often, especially when my mind is ready for a break. I imagine them bouncing quietly by underneath my windows. I imagine getting close enough to offer a treat — which certainly wouldn’t be a good long-term habit, but once or twice I think would be OK.

By definition, they’re canine, but there seems to be something feline about them as well. They’ve been very successful, populating four continents and countless folk tales. They’re extremely adaptable, can eat almost anything and can survive a wide range of climes with only their jaws, their paws and the fur on their backs.

When it comes time for a driveabout, I have to take two or three books, all those magazines I’ve been meaning to read, shorts in case it’s warm, a wool jacket in case it’s cold, my laptop, my walking stick, seltzer water and snacks. And my phone.

No self-respecting fox would ever allow me to travel with her.

Some few people have started keeping foxes as pets, which I’m not sure is wise. They reportedly can’t be housebroken (the foxes) and are so energetic that anything left unsupervised within their reach will quickly become a shredded plaything.

But wild urban foxes are practically model citizens, content to go their own shy way while we boldly go ours. Incidents of interspecies conflict, in terms of rabies, theft or attacks on house pets, are far more imaginary than real. They have more to fear from us.

Earlier this month, I came across a disturbing story about a contest organized by a private hunting club in Maryland to see who could kill the most foxes in one day. The winner of the contest received about $400 after killing 38 foxes, which were piled together before being thrown away — nobody eats foxes, and the high-powered weapons used to kill them leaves the fur unusable.

“Wildlife killing contests are cruel, pointless, and counter to science-based wildlife management,” Emily Hovermale, the state’s Humane Society director, told a Washington Post reporter. “Marylanders appreciate foxes and other wildlife and want them to be protected from cruelty — not brutally killed for cash, prizes and bragging rights and then thrown away like trash.”

Legislation intended to end such practices sits in the Maryland state House.

No county in North Carolina allows such wholesale slaughter of foxes. Forsyth County has a fox season with “a daily bag limit of 2 and season limit of 10. Foxes taken under this season may not be bought or sold,” according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

“Most hunters care deeply about conservation and being as humane as possible while maintaining the guidelines set forth by people who study our animal populations and design programs to keep them healthy,” Christopher Cox, a military veteran and hunting advocate, told the Post.

I’m certain that most hunters are responsible people. Nevertheless, it doesn’t bother me that sport hunting is a hobby in decline. From a peak of about 17 million hunters nationwide in the early 1980s, the number has dropped to about 11.5 million in 2016, according to data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our world is constantly changing, and hunters may someday be as rare as toothpick collectors.

The foxes, though, are more likely to endure.

When the space aliens finally arrive, if they demand to be taken to our leader, oh, boy, we’ll have a situation on our hands. But interstellar travelers would likely be smart enough to look elsewhere for intelligent life. They may go to the foxes, the crows, the dolphins — the truly evolved beings that have no need for baggage or complicated politics. They may ask, “How do you put up with those frail furless things that cause so much destruction?”

I wonder that sometimes myself.

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