Jayne is a horsewoman with a long history of involvement with horses. “I grew up in England and went through the British Horse Society exam system up to Intermediate level. Then I managed a foxhunting (ironically) and polo yard in England. I moved to Canada to manage a breeding and competition barn and then met my husband in the USA. I evented mostly until about 2000, then turned to dressage, which is what I do now. I have an FEI mare, a 6-year-old that I rode at the MDA show, a semi retired 29-year-old leased out to a student, a recipient mare that aborted my embryo transfer baby last year, and a leased recipient mare that is currently standing my pride and joy, a 12-week-old foal out of my beloved FEI mare.”
One of the animals Jayne and her husband recently cared for is a fox. Here is her story.
By Jayne Ryan
Beatrice (the fox) was discovered in a person’s back yard being aggravated by their dogs. She was too young to be out on her own, so after a few phone calls, they brought her to my husband’s veterinary clinic in Jonesboro, Arkansas. My husband has been a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for many years.
Last year we built a full sized flight cage with separate ‘rooms’ for smaller mammals such as raccoons, squirrels, bobcats, small birds and, of course, foxes. The new flight cage is large enough to rehab a full grown eagle. Beatrice moved into one of these smaller ‘rooms’ and immediately made herself at home.
I am responsible for naming all the creatures we rehab and Beatrice got her name from Dante Alighieri’s muse in the Divine Comedy. One of my favorite lines is, “the green of newborn leaves…” and newborn leaves were bursting out all over the farm when she arrived.
Beatrice was very young but not a newborn, so winning her trust was harder than with a cub that was abandoned soon after birth. I could pick her up and hold her (she actually really liked to be held), but if set down she would instinctively run for cover. As she grew stronger and bigger we knew we would find it harder and harder to retrieve her if she ran, so we purchased a tiny harness for her so she could go for walks in the evenings. Beatrice hated it! So I decided instead to play with her inside her room in the flight cage.
Each evening I would go in and just sit on a small block and let her come to me. She got braver and braver and interacted more and more with me. I would take toys for her to play with; her favorite was a corn husk from her neighbor Maple, a beaver we are also rehabbing.
We had tried to introduce Beatrice and Maple so that they could be friends as they grew up, since we find that orphaned animals do better with a buddy. But Maple wanted nothing to do with Beatrice, even though Beatrice was extremely polite and friendly towards her.
Since Beatrice didn’t really like the harness and we were afraid she would leave too soon and not be able to survive in the wild on her own, I just kept her in the enclosure and played with her there. She was very curious and playful and would love to bury parts of her daily rat, only to dig it up when I arrived and offer it to me. I always politely accepted and pretended that I loved it.
She loved to sneak around behind me and touch me softly with her nose. A huge victory for her! I stopped handling her physically, partly because she got so big, but mostly because I wanted her to develop a sense of distance from humans in preparation for her release.
Some evenings she would not come down from a ledge that she loved to sleep on during the daytime to see me. Most times she would, though, and I loved our time together.
Finally my husband said it was time for her to be released. Over the years we have learned that timing is everything with releasing these creatures back into the wild. Too soon and they likely will not survive, but, more importantly, too late and they are too attached to their human ‘parents.’ Beatrice was strong enough and old enough to take care of herself, but still young enough to have not overly bonded with us. We had tried not to make her a pet, but had shown love, caring, and compassion for her. This balance is so important to get right or these precious creatures cannot survive.
So, the day came for me to release her; I knew I was really going to miss her. People ask me all the time how we do it, caring for and bonding with beautiful creatures such as Beatrice, and then having to face the day when we let them go. You really have to be selfless in this respect and do what is right for the animal. I always tell myself: if I let this one go I know another one will come along needing our help and it will bring new joy to our lives.
Occasionally we release one of our critters and they go nowhere. Completely free, they choose to stay a while, sometimes longer, and what joy that is!
When I released Beatrice, she did not bolt out the door as I had thought she might. She played with me for a while with the door wide open, then she buried the rat I had given her, making note of its location for future snacking, and then wandered off slowly and carefully. I was very surprised and decided to go to my house to get my camera for a farewell snapshot of her, not really expecting her to still be there when I returned. But to my surprise, she turned and came to the house. For over an hour she stayed and played with my dog and me, even jogging down the driveway with us to greet a visitor.
As it grew dark, she disappeared into our woods and was gone. I was so grateful for the time she took to say a lovely goodbye. My dog had been quite alarmed at first when she tried to play with him, but even he looked sad when she disappeared into the night.
I really thought this was the end of the story, but to our delight Beatrice was hanging around the house the next morning. I gave her a snack, happy to know she was fed one more meal, and she disappeared into the woods once again.
Foxes are, of course, nocturnal, so for the next few days we saw Beatrice early mornings and early evenings. We always offered a snack and mostly she took it, but then we saw her less and less. Eventually, we saw her no more and all we could do was hope that she had found a great place to hunt and sleep and live.
Two weeks slipped by with no sightings and I believed I would not see her again. But then, to my delight, one morning I received a text message containing a short clip of Beatrice over at my neighbor’s house. My very kind neighbor and friend had met Beatrice once before while over for a visit. She described how Beatrice saw her come out of her back door and ran towards her, but then realizing she wasn’t me, had stopped abruptly but did not run away.
I got dressed and went over with a mouse treat for Beatrice. My friend had had to leave and there was no sign of Beatrice. I called for her several times and my heart sank, thinking I would not see her. But as I turned around, there she was sitting right behind me!
She looked wonderful! She had grown and her fur and tail were magnificent! I handed her the treat and she gobbled it right down. Although I was very sure she was not hungry, I wished that I had brought more than one treat. We played for several minutes and Beatrice came and nudged me with her nose just like she did before. I was so happy!
Eventually I had to go, so I sadly said goodbye and headed home. To my absolute joy she followed me all the way home. I live on 25 acres and my neighbor has over 30 acres with a county road between us, so she was absolutely sure she wanted to go home with me. I was over the moon! My girl had returned!
As we neared the house, my three dogs greeted us and, at first, Beatrice was happy to see them. But my Border Collie instinctively wanted to herd her. Beatrice was not going to be herded, being a free fox now, so she disappeared into the woods. I was sad to see her go, but happy to see her caution, not to mention her speed and athleticism in escaping an animal she did not trust.
The next morning she was back at my neighbor’s house and I took a supply of frozen treats to supplement her diet in case that was the reason she had returned. We have decided a medium sized rat every other day will keep her fed, but keep her honing her hunting skills on her own.My neighbor’s place is beautiful and much, much quieter than my busy farm, which has horses, dogs, cats, beavers, and people going around from dawn till dusk. So I am happy she is there and that we can all keep an eye on her and make sure she stays fed and happy.
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