Still being outfoxed

The crafty fox spotted outside my sister’s house after chasing her poor cat Winnie

My column about the fox harassing my sister’s cat the other week drew a fair amount of feedback from you lovely readers. It seems foxes split opinion. If they are minding their own business and not causing harm to local pets or livestock, then it is very pleasant to observe them going about their business.

If, however, you or your animals are a target for their attentions, then they really are quite a pest. I know several people who have lost hens and pet rabbits to foxes who have managed to get into their runs, which must be heartbreaking. Having said that, I’m not here to stir up the debate about culling foxes or fox hunting as a pastime as I’m not educated enough on that subject to argue on either side. I couldn’t participate in it myself because I’m squeamish at the thought of killing animals for sport, but then I do understand there is a need to control the fox population in general.  

Lucien Smith lives in London and says: “I see foxes on a regular basis, running across four lanes of traffic, skipping happily down residential streets at night.” But he is not convinced by my suggestion that they only attack cats that threaten their young. A number of his cats have vanished and he believes the fox is to blame. “I’m still very wary,” he says.

And I think my sister would agree, as the fox still seems to be deliberately targeting her cat Winnie, whether she is in the back garden or at the front of her house. “We see it quite often after my little cat. Thankfully Winnie is very quick!”

Clare Proctor, who moved from a city into a village a couple of years ago, laments the fact that she rarely sees foxes. “We have never encountered foxes at home. Maybe now that we live in the country, and they have moved into town, we never will!”

And Alison Mulhearn is a fan of the red-coated urban visitor: “We see loads, not in the garden but close to us. I love to watch them.” I do wonder how other readers feel about this most common, but undeniably handsome, native member of the wildlife community?

Most of us know that the fox is often referred to as ‘Reynard’. The name descends from a cycle of mediaeval tales told across Europe, originally in old French, where the main character was Reynard the Fox, a cunning trickster who lived in a world of talking animals. Here in the north of England, the fox is colloquially known as ‘Tod’. I know a fair few people with the surname Todd, and in the 15th century, by permission of King Henry VIII, church wardens offered money for every fox head they were given. Men who became adept at capturing foxes were given the name ‘Todman’ and ‘Todhunter’ which, alongside Todd, are common last names in the north. Some suggest that the town of Todmorden in West Yorkshire means ‘marshy den of the fox’.

Despite the fox appearing in plenty of myths and legends, compared to other creatures, there are not many superstitions associated with them. In Wales, if you see a fox in the morning, then you will have a good day, but in certain parts of England, it is better to see them at night. In Ireland, if a fisherman saw a fox en-route to his boat, then he would turn tail and head home again.

We are warned not to think about foxes while while cutting our fingernails as that will bring bad luck. Naturally though, once we are told that, trying not to think of a fox while we do it is nigh on impossible. It’s like serving at tennis. If you miss your first serve, this little voice enters your head to say, ‘Don’t do a double fault’, seconds before your next serve lands in the net. It’s the same when you’re on a country walk and there are no toilets for miles around. Once that thought enters your head, suddenly you’ll be bursting for the loo.

So obviously my next questions is, what would you do in that situation? Find a suitable bush to crouch down behind? Or brave it out, hold on, and simply walk faster?

I know what I would do, but I’ll leave you to guess what it is!

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This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 23rd and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 21st September 2022