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First lady of the foxes
J ust a mile away from the speed and clamour of the M40 lies the peace and calm of the Little Foxes animal sanctuary. Founder Penny Little was keen to assure me that while foxes are a significant element of the animals fostered and cared for, they do cater for almost any wild animal — from voles to deers.
“I have always had a total fascination with wild animals,” confessed Penny. “When I changed from full-time to part-time work, I became a volunteer at St Tiggywinkles and that is where I ‘learned my trade’. Then in 1998, I was able to give up work and started Little Foxes.”
Penny’s cottage at Great Haseley is the hub of a volunteer wheel whose spokes reach across the county. Nine fosterers care for animals in their own homes and each fosterer tends to concentrate on one animal, or type of animal.
“For example, Sue Grima is our bird lady,” Penny said. “She has gradually built up more and more knowledge of birds and bonds with them especially well.”
Another nine helpers assist in all kinds of ways, not least providing vital transport for the birds and mammals.
“We specialise in caring for orphans. The parents could have died for any number of reasons, but often it is an accident with a vehicle, or a cat attack on smaller creatures.”
Nearly 600 animals are treated every year, plus thousands of phone queries answered. -The rescue animals cannot be taken to shows, so events such as car boot sales or once, a sponsored parachute jump, help raise cash
Penny and her staff are greatly concerned at the prevailing advice that if you see a wild animal, leave it alone, even if it appears to have problems or is injured.
“That’s dangerous advice. It leads to animals being brought to us when it’s far too late,” she explained. “You have to use your common sense. If it is a fox cub gambolling about in the sunshine, that is obviously perfectly natural, but if the animal is injured or starving, take action. If you leave it to see what happens, it is likely to die. Call us for advice, that is why we are here.”
Inevitably, our conversation turned to foxes, creatures so dear to Penny’s heart, her own speciality and on which she holds some very firm views.
She explained that animals feel pain and have emotions just like any human and those emotions are every bit as complex as human feelings. Foxes have an extraordinary vitality, they are very alive and passionate, they feel fear to quite extraordinary depths. Causing a fox toexperience fear is real cruelty.
“Foxes never do anything by halves. Awake, they’re always on the alert, but when they sleep, wham, they are gone,” she laughed.
To Penny, being allowed the privilege of caring for and bonding with a fox — or any creature — is magical. They are allowing you a temporary window into their lives for that all too brief hour of need, something you would not experience in any other way.
“To do this, you need humility and I’m constantly humbled by what these animals show me day after day,” she remarked.
Penny swiftly disabused me of the notion that foxes will become tame if cared for by a human being. Each fox is handled by one person only, learning to trust and bond with the carer but still fearing other humans. She refers to it as the carer becoming an honorary fox.
But foxes are hard-wired to be wild, to fear humans and dogs and once released back to nature, instantly regain their natural persona. Only if a fox becomes a pet, plays with dogs and is part of the family is it possible for it to become tame.
The regime for every animal, foxes not excepted, is to replicate the pattern of rearing that it would have in the wild. Cubs are started off in small containers to mimic an earth, then moved to larger ones. Stage three is to put cubs into a run, where their natural instincts kick in to transform them into the alert, wary mammals that they truly are.
Foxes breed once a year in spring and release comes normally in autumn, when they would naturally flee the nest and find their own territories. Dog foxes tend to wander furthest, part of the instinct to prevent inbreeding.
Release is done at carefully selected sites with the assistance of the landowners. The sites must be away from hunting, shooting and roads and every release is soft, with easy access food provided until the fox acclimatises. The fox is self regulating, with only dominant vixens breeding. Daughters and sisters will act as aunties during rearing.
The bugbear of the breed is mange, a skin mite that causes itching, scratching, open wounds and debilitation. Treatment often starts with antibiotics, followed by the homeopathic arsenicum, all placed in the food.
If the animal can be treated in the wild, so much the better, but any fox brought to Penny is first given food and antibiotics to build up its strength. This gives it a fighting chance of getting better, as death from toxic shock can occur as all the impurities are wasted from its system.
Little Foxes is a registered charity, dependent entirely on membership fees and donations. Overheads are nil, all care is done at home, but food, vets and transport bills all add up.
Nearly 600 animals are treated every year, plus thousands of phone queries answered.
The rescue animals cannot be taken to shows, so events such as car boot sales or once, a sponsored parachute jump, help raise cash. But Penny and her colleagues are passionate, totally committed to wildlife care.
“It is 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week,” Penny said. “Yes, it is hard work, an emotional rollercoaster, but so incredibly rewarding.”
For more information call 01844 279469 or visit the website: www.littlefoxes.org.uk