While foxes are not popular animals to keep as companions, there are many cases of keeping foxes as pets. From these cases, we can understand the responsibilities involved with owning a fox as a pet and the consequences one must be prepared to handle. Unfortunately, several pet fox cases have tragic endings for the animal due to human fear, misunderstanding, negligence, or restriction. Only a few cases of pet-fox ownership are documented here.
Mikhail and Nikolai, two domesticated foxes from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics’ Farm-Fox Experiment were confiscated by the Texas government when illegally imported into the United States through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (Fedewa 2011 December 6). Anya, another domesticated fox from the ICG’s Farm-Fox Experiment was successfully imported into the United States through Florida, but was forced to relocate from her city in Michigan with her owner, Kay Fedewa, when community outrage triggered the enactment of a new law banning the ownership of foxes as pets (Fedewa 2012 May 3). After moving to a new city, Anya was later killed by a feral coyote when inadequately housed in an outdoor enclosure (Fedewa 2014). Vader, a ranched fox bred in Indiana and owned by Tara and Eric Hiatt, was exterminated by the Minot Police Department of North Dakota when he bit an animal control officer (KX News Minot 2014; Meredith 2014; Minot Police Department 2014; Schramm 2014). Valo, another ranched fox, was exterminated in the city of Fairborn, Ohio, when found loose and thought to be a wild animal and not the pet of Chloe Kristensen (Crowe 2014; Moore 2014; WHIO Breaking News Staff 2014). Finally, Swiper, another ranched fox, did not meet with a tragic fate. Although he was confiscated by the Fairfax County Police Department, his owner, Alayna Sitterson, was able to repossess him (ABC News 7 2010; Falls Church News-Press 2010; The Washington Post 2010; WSUA9 2010). Swiper’s life was later altered, however, when his owner realized that she was no longer able to adequately provide for him and surrendered him to a fox rescue organization.
Currently, there are three different degrees of tameness found in foxes. These degrees of tameness are clearly described by Hemmer (1988):
(1) Tameness by primary acquisition of confidence as done by hand-rearing,
(2) Tameness by reduce of distrust, as done in taming adult animals,
(3) Tameness by naivety as the only type of tameness on a genetic basis. Only this last one is the basic type of tameness as typical for real domestic animals (p. 135).
Many foxes kept as pets in the United States are behaviorally tame, not genetically tame. As Hemmer explains, these foxes are hand-raised to acquire tameness to humans. Commonly referred to as “ranched foxes,” these foxes were born and raised on fox farms that commercially breed foxes. Gogoleva et al. (2010a) reminds that farm foxes are selected mainly for fur, size, and litter sizes, and not for attitudes to people, so they are normally fearful of humans. Ranched foxes have been bred in captivity for years, however, during which they have been inevitably subjected to some selection for adaptation to captivity or amenability to domestication (Trut et al. 2009). The observation that even unselected farm-raised foxes exhibit some adaptive behavioral changes is supported by observations of free-living foxes with coat colors typical of farm-raised strains, and thus most likely descended from escaped farm-bred foxes, exhibiting reduced avoidance of humans compared to wild foxes (Keeler 1975/2009). While these foxes are tamer than wild foxes, they are arguably not as tame as the domesticated foxes from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics’ Farm-Fox Experiment. Even mitochondrial DNA and history records have shown differences within captive farm foxes, or ranched foxes, bred with unconscious selection for behavior and a conscious selection for fur quality for commercial purposes, and domesticated foxes bred under intensive selection for tame behavior at the ICG (Statham et al. 2011).
Despite these differences, ranched foxes are much more common as pets in the United States because they are easier to obtain. Not only are there several fox farms and exotic pet breeders all over the country, these foxes also cost much less than a domesticated fox from the Russian Farm-Fox Experiment. The final purchase price of any domesticated fox imported into the United States from Siberia is about $8,900.00 (World Wide Exotic Animal Talent Agency, LLC. 2012) while the most expensive color of red fox sold at Tiny Tracks Exotic Animals LLC., one of the most popular exotic pet farms in the United States, sells for $750, though most of Tiny Tracks’ red foxes sell for $425 (Tiny Tracks Exotic Animals LLC 2015a). Because of these limitations, few have attempted purchasing a domesticated fox from the ICG and many choose to purchase a possibly less tamed, but unarguably cheaper ranched fox from the States.
Typing “pet fox” into YouTube’s search engine, at www.youtube.com, will bring about several videos of Eric Mason’s pet fox, Ron. Adorably called “RonRon,” this fox has become a YouTube celebrity with over 56,000 subscribers and over 22 million views on his account “foxalbiazul” since his first video was published six years ago (Mason 2015). On every single one of his video’s Mason writes, “Ron is a pet red fox I bought from a licensed exotic animal breeder, in Oklahoma, captive-bred and hand-raised. My state of Arkansas allows pet foxes without any permit needed.” Mason is correct in the fact that Arkansas allows pet red foxes as it is written in Chapter 9: Captive Wildlife and Hunting Resort Regulations, Section 14: Native Wildlife Pets Restricted of the Arkansas State Game and Fish Commission Code of Regulations of the Arkansas State Game and Fish Commission Code:
It is unlawful to possess native wildlife as pets except as follows:
(A) Native wildlife captured from the wild:
(1) No more than six per household of any combination of the following animals may be possessed as pets:
(a) Hand-captured bobcat, coyote, gray fox, red fox, opossum, rabbit, raccoon and squirrel; and
(B) Captive born native wildlife: No more than six per household of any commercially obtained, captive born native wildlife may be possessed as personal pets in compliance with the following restrictions:
Mason’s fox Ron is a captive-born red fox, native to the state of Arkansas and legal to own as a pet in the state. Mason and Ron live harmoniously together and illustrate a successful fox-human bond. In order to form such a fruitful bond, one must be responsible and knowledgeable about pet fox needs, laws regarding the ownership of foxes as pets, and community attitudes toward the animal. On his YouTube About page, Mason writes, “A pet fox is not for everybody; it is difficult and a challenging adventure that requires sacrifice on your part (and your stuff!) Always do extensive research before getting a fox or other exotic on a whim” (2015).
Unfortunately, there are numerous cases in which the lack of responsibility of the owner has resulted in negative consequences upon pet foxes. Pet foxes in the United States have come across negative community attitudes and poor ownership and have been confiscated, relocated, and even exterminated as a result.