. . . And The Fox Is On The Town-O


Gadzooks! There's a fox in my neighborhood!

I can't pinpoint where it lives -- or exactly what it thinks it's doing here -- but I've seen the little critter on numerous occasions now, scampering around along a wooded berm behind my house.

This is not a pretty creature we're talking about. Not the kind you see in cartoons, which make them seem as adorable as Chihuahuas. Wasn't it Walt Disney which cast a fox in the lead role in a "Robin Hood" cartoon?

I'm here to tell you the canine running around this neighborhood ain't so cute. Aside from the fact that it appears to be a puppy, it has lost just about all its hair -- a bad case of mange, I'm told -- and he's not at all that burnt orange color you'd expect. He's sort of a dirty gray and beige, but who am I to quibble with style? Still, he's got no sense of humor, something one would expect from an animal known for cleverness.

Someone started thinking he might have rabies. Before you knew it, an all-points bulletin was circulating through the neighborhood, requesting everyone to report any sightings to the local police. With that buzz-cut, he was sort of easy to spot.

I saw him the other day and reported it, but only after my cat, a normally docile creature with superb manners, apparently thought the fox was invading her territory and took off after him one morning. A neighbor spotted the chase and thought the cat might have gotten into a little altercation with the fox.

Enough said. Not ones to easily mask fear, my whole family donned gloves -- my wife used kitchen mitts -- and we carted the cat off to the vet for a check-up. Luckily, no cuts or bite marks were found. But now we're confronted with quarantining the cat for six months.

We've put her under house arrest. So she spends most of her time with her paws wrapped around the knob of our back door, trying to get out. Honest!

If you're wondering why I've spent so much time describing our fox encounter, it has occurred to me that my reaction to this situation may be typical of what you'd expect from a suburban dweller, especially one who defines camping-out as a night at the Hilton.

Many of us in Columbia made the choice to live here because we like the blend of comfortable housing, good schools and loads of amenities. Among those is the easy access we have to nature. Not only are there the lakes, but our walking paths cut through some of the most beautiful natural wilderness to be found. And -- surprise, surprise -- there are animals in that wilderness.

To be more exact, there were animals all over what is now Columbia. We, in effect, have gentrified their community,

bulldozing away their habitats to make room for our houses.

To James Rouse's credit, some of what the indigenous animals of this area called home, we saved, displacing them to areas much smaller than they had before. Occasionally, however, they venture beyond their borders and end up in our back yards.

When I first moved to my current home, the area was still not fully developed. And it was not uncommon to spot deer on the hill where I recently saw the fox. I still see them from time to time. And always, no matter how many times I see them, my reaction is one of complete awe. They are truly majestic creatures.

I wish I had the same reaction to the fox, but I don't -- especially when I heard it might have rabies.

It turns out that the fox was finally given a clean bill of health, but only because it survived the 10-day period during which a rabid dog should have died.

County animal control officials have put several traps out for our visitor, but alas, he has, well . . . outfoxed them. Perhaps that's for the best.

County Animal Control Director Brenda Purvis says a lot of us have "irrational fears" about wild animals when they appear so close to home.

Unlike the way we feel about them, some of these creatures get used to being around humans, making meals out of our uncovered garbage cans, bird feed or bowls of pet food.

The most common sightings are of fox, deer, skunks, ground hogs and bats. They are almost never there to harm us, Ms. Purvis says; the best policy is to simply leave them alone and they'll go away.

So, to the fox I say, enjoy your time here. I'm sorry we took away your home to make room for mine. But I think we can share this space together for as long as you want to stick around.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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