Focus on foxes: it started right here

Jon Klassen art

It began with APLNJ’s original blog motif — the beautiful fox in snow. Whenever I saw it, I thought about foxes I have known. “Seen” would be the better word, since I’ve never been closer to one than from the car window to the side of the road, where I’ve watched occasional foxes moving along. They were smaller than expected, coppery and thoroughly self-possessed.

More recently, a friend mentioned a fox family near a wooded area in her backyard: a mother fox and three pups. Not to disturb them, she wisely watches them with binoculars, agreeing that the kits do look more like puppies than foxes at that stage of their lives.

This double take on foxes reminded me of Pax, a wonderful children’s novel for all ages by Sara Pennypacker that I read last year. Pax is a young fox rescued by a boy, Peter. They are virtually inseparable – until the boy’s father makes him abandon the fox. The rest of the book, alternating viewpoints of fox and boy, describes what they each do next and what they learn.

All this fox-talk prompted me to check into foxes — including those in New Jersey.

Gary Lehman photo

To begin with, male foxes are known as dogs (or pups), tods or reynards; females, as vixens; and young, as cubs, pups or kits. A group of foxes is known as a skulk, leash or earth. And it figures that baby foxes look like puppies since foxes are members of the Canidae biological family that also includes domestic dogs, wolves, jackals and coyotes.

The three wild species in the family who live in New Jersey are the coyote, the gray fox (with the unique ability to climb trees) and the red fox, the one most common here. Foxes resemble small dogs with bushy tails, and weigh anywhere from 6.5 to 15 pounds. Though they’re generally not dangerous to humans, small domestic animals and livestock can be at risk.

People described as “foxy” may be sly, cunning, crafty, wily (think La Fontaine’s fable about the crow and the fox) — and/or attractive or sexually appealing.

In New Jersey, both gray and red foxes are classified by the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) as “game species and are considered valuable furbearers and have both hunting and trapping seasons.”

APLNJ reports that last season, over 3,000 foxes were killed by firearms alone during the 185-day season, which also includes coyotes. Lucky foxes: all of 180 days left free from being targets. (Scroll down the link below and try to visualize the variety and numbers of animals killed here in one year by “sportsmen.”)

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence
by Patricia Fragnoli

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned-away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted dull haired
past Jim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and he ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him,
some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

— Pat Summers

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