Thursday, July 29, 2010

Galileo's journey

We rescued Galileo, an “arctic marble” fox in November of 2008. Galileo’s story was fuzzy at best. In fact, we received at least 5 different stories about where he came from before we finally met the woman to pick him up. All stories included being kept at some college (that kept changing), sometimes in a dorm, sometimes in a fraternity house. All ended with him being 3 months old, which we knew was impossible by November for a fox.
A volunteer/friend and, finally met her, at a veterinarian’s office, because they very nicely offered to let us use an indoor run that would prevent him from escaping while we transferred him from one crate to another. Seemed odd to us that he wasn’t at all handleable, if he had truly been raised as a pet in either a dorm or fraternity house? But, but nobody was going to risk a fox being on the loose.
When we arrived at the vet’s office the first thing that hit us was the smell! It was VILE! We took one look inside the crate and found a yellow, stinking, terrified, skinny fox with a very red upper muzzle sitting on urine and feces covered pine straw. It looked like he had been in this same medium sized cat crate, in his own filth for at least DAYS if not longer!
The woman who was turning him over to us very excitedly and nicely said that we were welcome to just trade crates with her and take him in her crate. Not being able to stand seeing any animal in that kind of filth for any longer than it would take to open the door the answer was an absolute NO (though it was said politely)! So, off we went to the back room with the indoor run. I walked into the 3 foot by 6 foot run with both crates, one clean and empty, one filthy and full of fox and filth. The plan was just to have him shift from one to the other, with me closed into this very small space, by just tipping one crate into the other crate.
This plan was working really well….UNTIL…the woman, who was out of the line of sight, spoke, then the poor fox freaked out, climbed the solid, brick wall and flew at my face. Not intending to hurt me, just trying to get away from that voice. She was very happily explaining that his nose was red because “he was such a little pill to net this morning”. A few alarm bells went off in my head when she talked about netting him, but the rest of my mind was occupied, dodging a flying fox.
So now I have two crates that are each almost 2 feet wide, about 2 and a half feet long, facing each other and taking up most of the floor space of the enclosure we are in; and I have almost no room to move and a fox, bouncing off the walls, quite literally. There was no way to get the filthy crate out without risking having a loose fox in the practice. Every time I’d start to get him calm enough to scoop him into the clean crate the woman would speak again and again he would climb the walls to escape! One of the vet techs caught my eye, and message and got the woman to leave the room after 30 minutes of this. The vet tech was then able to slide something under the door of the enclosure we were in and help guide him into the clean crate.
Off the lady went, very proud of having “helped” this fox. And off we went, with a filthy, smelling, skinny fox on our way home.
Once home, we put the fox in a quarantine room, by himself and realized just how skinny and how terrified of humans (though supposedly raised as a pet) he was.
Two days later, we took him to our vet, who sedated him. Three of us spent an hour giving him the biggest bath in history! We found that he weighed 6 pounds (half of what he should have weighed), he got all of his shots (which he’d never had before) and was neutered. At that point we found out he was nowhere as young as the 3 months we were told, he was a minimum of a year old AND the red on the top of his muzzle was because the woman had broken the bridge of his nose netting him to crate him; he later lost his upper canines from this injury. Even with the great bath, the poor guy was still very yellow and remained so for several months (his fur was so stained from living in urine and filth), but he no longer smelled of urine and feces. So, off we went home to try to earn his trust.
A month of going in with him, offering food, sitting and reading to him, sitting quietly with him, calling experts, trying every “trick” we could think of or were told about, we tried it, and he was still terrified and snarling at us. Already having two arctic marble foxes, which he could not be introduced to, because they are too bonded to each other, and whom we cannot handle we were getting desperate!
So, as I was sitting, crying and thinking, Mushu, our 5 pound Pomeranian, whom we call “out greeter”, jumped into my lap, waving, as she always does when she wants attention. Then it dawned on me. Our last resort in trying to make friends with the fox we now called Galileo. Mushu! She loves EVERYBODY, welcomes everybody, and it didn’t hurt that she only weighed a pound less than he did and has over 6 inch long fur. I figured if things went wrong, I could get her away from him before he could hurt her.
Got a few weird looks when I announced my plan, but, Mushu thought it was a great idea, so she followed Vinny and I back to the quarantine room and in she walked, us behind her, we closed the door (with us inside and held our breath). Galileo was doing what he always did, hiding behind a box. Mushu walked in, stood in the middle of the room, sat down and started waving toward him. At first I got a bit worried, I hadn’t seen Galileo move so quickly since the day he and I were in the run together. He flew from behind the box, hit the floor on his belly, ENTIRE body wiggling so much he was almost convulsing and his tail stood STRAIGHT up in the air (for those who don’t deal with foxes daily, this is a good thing). I have NEVER seen an animal SO happy in my life!!! The smile on his face brought tears to my eyes. Yes, foxes do indeed smile!
Vinny and I looked at each other in amazement, Mushu had done it again! And so she turned to the door and looked at us like “ok, let’s go”. Well, ok, let’s see how he is meeting the rest of the dogs? Off we went to the living room, fox and Mushu leading. WOW, seeing 4 other dogs made him even happier than he had been when he saw Mushu!
Now foxes are NOT pack animals as adults, so what was with this behavior? He shouldn’t be having FUN with DOGS! We later found, after working with our vet that Galileo’s early nutrition was so poor that his adrenal glands never kicked in, so mentally he will never grow past a kit. Which means he is quite happy to remain a pack animal and more than that, at the bottom of the pack. Which, in this case is good, since Mushu is the largest of our dogs, the others are all 3 pound Chihuahuas, all of whom love to show that they can actually dominate him. Not that they are mean to Galileo, do not get me wrong, they just take great pride in knowing that a now 12 pound fox, will submit to them if asked! Always runs up, flips on his back, smiles and shows them his belly!
Very shortly after that day, we were able to pet, then brush, then pick up Galileo whenever we wanted. Now he sleeps on my desk as I work, allowing me to kiss his nose at will, ok, sometimes demanding this. I can cut his nails easier than I cut any of the dogs’ nails, and love on him at will! He’s even amazed our USDA inspector at his lack of nervous behavior. A fox normally acts nervous, not Galileo!
He has since made friends with two skunks, a raccoon and a bunch of cats, who actually don’t like him, but we don’t tell him, we don’t want to hurt his feelings. He “borrows” my things as a game, in the hopes that I will chase and “catch” him so he can get yet another nose kiss. If I don’t happen to, he will pass the treasure to the raccoon who will then proceed to take it apart. Yes, we have lost 8 cell phones this way. ALL worth it to see the sparkle in this beautiful boy’s eyes!
He is now bright white, a perfect weight and as healthy as can be! He will always have some damage from poor early nutrition, such as loose tendons in his ankles. As I type this, he is sleeping on the third level of a 5 level cat tree, cats on all other levels and quite content.
While his life didn’t start easily, or happily, it has become a very happy, very calm, playful and fulfilling life. He is a welcome member of the CLAWS family!


  1. This is a very touching story, Kindra! Brought me to tears. It's so sad how people treat animals, but I'm so glad he came to you.

  2. How did an Arctic Marble Fox end up in North Carolina? I wondered... I also wondered about how the lady who turned him over to you had him in her possession? I am amazed at how people think wild animals can be "exotic pets". I am sure someone probably got this animal as a kit from and thought he was "just so cute" until he start to behave instinctively at which point the probably began confining him inhumanely. It is obvious he had bad memories of this woman and certainly had no trust of humans. I can only imagine the depression and hopelessness his precious little heart must have endured. I am simply tearful as I contemplate the fate of so many animals. The Lord has certainly placed a heart of compassion in you Kindra. You possess love, tenderness and patience all required to steward this beautiful animal in a special journey. Your story of Galileo is one I will tell over and over to people. I get so discouraged when the only comment I hear uneducated people in my neighborhood say about foxes is "Don't they have rabies?" I have been feeding and helping the urban foxes who live behind my house and throughout my neighborhood for about eight years. Three years ago I worked with Wildlife rescue to bait and feed the foxes so that I could help them overcome mange. To see a mother fox with mange left me feeling desperate in the desire to help her. I LOVE foxes. There are such beautiful creatures. I am inspired by this story.

  3. Reba,
    We really aren't sure how this woman came in possession of him, since she was less than honest in all of our dealings with her. Many species of fox are bred and sold on the pet market all the time in this country, though they are not legal in the county she lived in.
    We get asked ALL the time, "is he more like a cat or a dog". He is more like a FOX! Which is honestly nothing like a cat or a dog.