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Dorie and Ranger are curious pups, and they are always on the lookout for something to add a little excitement to their world. Tuesday was their lucky day.

It started out with a quiet morning, but by mid-day Dorie broke the spell of peacefulness with loud barking. Ranger quickly decided that he should add to the commotion so he started howling. I don't believe he even knew why all the noise was necessary. I sure didn't! But the racket from both dogs was relentless.

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It didn't take me long to realize that a red fox had sauntered out of the woods and into our backyard. Although we see them occasionally in daylight hours, foxes are known to be solitary, nocturnal animals that are usually seen in the early morning or in the evening. They are also shy.

The fox was a beauty, and I watched it from the window as it wandered along on the grass by the wood's edge and finally disappeared into the brush.

When I finally opened the door, the dogs tumbled out into their fenced "dog park," but the intruder was no longer in view. They practically fell over each other trying to get as close to where they had seen the fox as possible. But soon they seemed to forget about the furry distraction as they began chasing each other around in big circles. I wonder if the fox watched them from its hiding place in the woods and if it would like to have joined in the frolic.

The red fox lives in diverse habitats throughout the continental United States and much of the world. It has adapted to human environments and often resides in parks and woodland edges. It is a solitary hunter who survives on rodents, rabbits, and other small animals including birds. Hunting at night is characteristic of foxes because their eyes are specially adapted to night vision.

The fox also eats fruit, vegetables, frogs, fish and whatever else is available. Its resourcefulness has earned it a reputation for being both intelligent and cunning.

The red fox has rusty red fur on its face, back, sides, and big, bushy tail. The chin, throat, and belly are white. It has black feet and pointy, black-tipped ears. Red foxes and gray foxes are sometimes confused because each may have some color variations at certain times. The gray fox is somewhat smaller than the red fox and has a slightly more rounded face.

The sure way to distinguish the two species is to look at the tips of their tails. Red foxes always have white-tipped tails while gray foxes always have black-tipped tails.

Red foxes mate in the winter, in January or February, and bear their young between March and May. They have one litter a year and usually four or five pups although they can have as many as 10 to 12. For the first few days, the male brings food to his mate after the pups are born, but before long both parents are hunting for food to feed the youngsters.

Foxes raise their families in a den — often an abandoned underground burrow of another animal or a hollow above ground. If none is available, they will dig their own. The den is not a year-round home for the fox. Like birds, foxes only use a den while their pups are young and vulnerable.

The young pups strike out on their own as the fall season approaches and they have reached the age of about seven months old. The parents separate when the youngsters leave and begin their solitary lifestyle again.

The male red fox is called a dog; the female is a vixen. A young fox may be called a kit or pup, and a group of foxes is called a skulk. They are members of the dog family but have a lot in common with cats.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, red foxes have excellent hearing and can hear rodents digging underground.

Our fox returned later Tuesday afternoon. I saw it running across the front lawn just before it took a turn and disappeared once again into the woods.

Dorie and Ranger never had a clue.

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