The results of this study revealed participant attitudes toward dogs and domesticated foxes in regards to pet ownership, breeding ethics, and ownership legality.
Pet Dogs Compared to Pet Domesticated Foxes
It was found that a participant’s attitudes toward pet dogs and pet-dog ownership directly related with his attitudes toward pet domesticated foxes and pet domesticated fox ownership. This showed that the more people favored dogs as pets, the more they favored foxes as pets. This shows potential for foxes to be as favored as dogs in time.
Ethical and Legal Attitudes
Participants’ attitudes toward pet-dog breeding influenced his attitudes about wild fox breeding, thus those who were more in favor of selectively breeding pet dogs were also more in favor of breeding wild foxes. It appears that participant attitudes about dog and fox breeding depended more on their attitudes toward animal breeding in general, and less on the actual animal species being bred. This also shows potential for the fox to be favored as much as dogs with time.
Regarding United States laws concerning the ownership of pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes, participants showed high agreement for the legal possession of pet dogs and moderate-high agreement for the legal possession of pet domesticated foxes. Participants favored the legal ownership of dogs more than the legal ownership of foxes. These attitudes also showed correlation as whether or not a participant agreed with the legal possession of pet dogs influenced whether or not he agreed with the legal possession of pet domesticated foxes. Just as those who favored dogs also favored foxes, those who are more in favor of owning pet dogs are more in favor of owning pet domesticated foxes. With both of these results, it appears that foxes have the potential of becoming a well-liked animal companion amongst those who currently enjoy the companionship of dogs.
Participant attitudes toward dog breeding were not correlated with attitudes toward laws regarding pet-dog ownership, but participant attitudes toward fox breeding and the legal ownership of pet domesticated foxes were. Participants were more in favor for the legal possession of pet dogs than the breeding of pet dogs to suit our needs. This supports current literature that ownership of dogs is generally more accepted than the breeding of dogs (Allan 2010; Harrison 2008). Some dog owners do not support pedigree dog breeding because of several criticisms such as breeders putting emphasis on a dog’s appearance rather than the dog’s welfare. Because the breeding pool was originally limited for many pedigree dog breeds, several genetic deformities and issues lie hidden within these dogs causing several medical conditions and poor health of some purebred dogs (Harrison 2008). Carrie Allan (2010), a writer for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), exposes several of these concerns, such as the fact that Cavalier King Charles spaniels’ skulls are commonly too small for their brains, causing them to develop syringomyelia, a neurological disorder in which painful fluid-filled cavities occur within the spinal cord near the brain (Allan 2010; Rusbridge 2007), Basenjis often suffer from hemolytic anemia or a kidney disease called Fanconi syndrome, 45% of Scottish terriers die from cancer while, and bulldogs must be born through cesarean section in order to avoid their large statures from becoming lodged within the mother’s birth canal (Allan 2010). English bulldogs also often suffer serious respiritory problems, including sleep apnea, due to their shortened snouts and tightened throats (Hendricks et al. 1987). Because of these concerns and several more, some pet-dog owners do not think it is morally ethical to selectively breed dogs, eventually altering them to suit our needs. While still agreeing with the legal possession of dogs as pets, these owners still own dogs, but may acquire them through different means than pedigree breeders. It is interesting that the same is not true for foxes.
Similar to dogs, favor for owning pet foxes was higher than favor for breeding pet foxes, but unlike dogs, the attitudes were not as drastically different. Participants favored owning pet domesticated foxes slightly more than breeding wild foxes. Again, this may be a direct result of the lack of knowledge about foxes versus the amount of knowledge in regards to dogs. Because fox breeding is not as common as dog breeding, there haven’t been as many concerns uncovered about breeding foxes as have been uncovered about breeding pedigree dogs.
Participants’ attitudes about pet-dog breeding were correlated with attitudes toward the legal ownership of pet domesticated foxes, but attitudes toward the legal possession of pet dogs were not related with attitudes toward wild fox breeding.
Further, attitudes toward pet dogs, in general, were related with one’s attitudes about breeding pet dogs and whether the ownership of pet dogs should be legal. Attitudes toward pet foxes, in general, were also associated with attitudes toward the ethics of fox breeding and the legality of owning a pet fox. This is completely understandable, as how one feels about an animal will surely affect how he feels about selectively breeding the animal and creating laws regarding the ownership of such an animal. Attitudes toward pet dogs, in general, were also found to affect a participant’s attitudes toward wild fox breeding, but were not correlated with whether or not one felt that foxes should be legal to own as pets. Strangely, attitudes about pet foxes, in general, correlated with attitudes toward the legality of owning a dog, but not with the ethics of breeding dogs.
Perceptions of Wild to Domesticated Fox Images
When the stop angle, snout length, and leg length decreased as the ear curl and tail curl increased all at once, participants labeled the foxes as domesticated sooner than when the physical attributes changed individually. These results demonstrate the effects of physical traits on the appearance of domestication. When an animal displayed a single physical trait that was manipulated by the effects of domestication, participants were quick to label the animal domesticated, with the trait only having to change slightly, but when an animal displayed more than one physical traits being manipulated by the effects of domestication, participants responded to the changes even faster, labeling the animal domesticated when the traits had changed even less than when viewed individually. This means that as the foxes from the Farm-Fox Experiment at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics continue to change physiologically, they will continue to look increasingly more domesticated which could help their potential for becoming well-accepted pets in the United States.
When participants selected Figure E the most frequently for the image that most resembled a domesticated fox, this identified which physical traits people most commonly associate with domesticated animals. In this case, participants chose the foxes displaying narrowed stop angles, shortened snout lengths, shortened leg lengths, increased ear curls, and increased tail curls or decreased tail lengths as the most domesticated animal pictured. Participants did not choose most often, Figure A, the image intended to best represent a standard wild red fox, or Figures B, C, and D, in which the fox was changed gradually by the effects of domestication, but not to the extent that Figure E was manipulated. This is in compliance with available literature indicating that pedomorphosis and neoteny, the retention in adults of juvenile traits, such as widened skulls, shortened snouts, floppy ears, and curly tails, leads to the appearance of domestication (Morey 1994; Price 2002). Domesticated animals are also known for demonstrating similar morphological changes such as body size and proportions, coat color, fur length, and hair texture. White spotting, floppy ears, and curly tails, have become distinctive markers of domestication (Abumrad 2009; Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Morey 1994; Trut 2007; Trut et al. 2009).
Not surprisingly, participants most frequently chose the Georgian white-colored fox as the one that appeared the most domesticated compared to a silver-colored, red-colored, piebald-colored, and platinum-colored fox. Because melanin and adrenaline have been found to share a genetic connection, animals selected for tameness tend to sport white coloring in their coats (Trut 1999; Trut et al. 2009). White spotting and a lack of pigmentation have become markers of domestication, common in domesticated animals such as dogs, pigs, horses, cows, guinea pigs, and cats, among others (Belyaev 1979; Kukekova et al. 2008a; Trut 1999; Trut et al. 2009). Thus, white coloring in animals as become associated with tameness, possibly fueling participants to choose the completely white fox as the most domesticated.
Interestingly, several states include laws that prohibit the ownership of red-colored wild-looking foxes, whether they are domesticated or ranched, because of the close appearance to a wild fox. While red-colored foxes may be restricted or even banned in these states, foxes sporting a different coat color other than red are allowed or less restricted. Michigan, in particular, declares silver-colored foxes to be a clear sign of a domesticated fox. Although silver foxes can be found in the wild, the silver-colored red fox is not native to the state of Michigan, thus if one is found in the state, it must be an imported or bred pet and not a captured wild animal. This reasoning is reflected in Chapter 324 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Act 451 of 1994: Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Article III Natural Resources Management, Chapter 2 Management of Renewable Resources, Subchapter 1 Wildlife, Possession, Sale, Regulation of Wildlife, Part 431 Foxes in Captivity, Section 01 Foxes in captivity as domestic animals; protection; construction of part of the Michigan Compiled Laws:
Silver, silver-black, black, and cross foxes, which of their nature, in the absence of efforts for their domestication, were known as wild, which are brought into or born in captivity upon a farm or ranch for the purpose of cultivating or pelting their furs, together with their offspring and increase, are domestic animals for the purpose of any statute or law relating generally to domestic animals, other than dogs and cats or other pets, or relating to farming or to animal husbandry or to the encouragement of agriculture, unless any such statute or law is impossible to apply to such fur-bearing animals. Such fur-bearing animals, together with their offspring and increase, are the subjects of ownership, lien, and all other property rights, in the same manner as purely domestic animals, in whatever situation, location, or condition the fur-bearing animals may be, and regardless of whether they remain in or escape from captivity. Such fur-bearing animals shall receive the same protection of law as, and in the same way and to the same extent are the subject of trespass or larceny as, other personal property. This part shall not be construed to include silver, silver-black, black, and cross foxes within the definition of livestock, or give any person any right to recovery for damage or destruction of the animal under the dog law of 1919, Act No. 339 of the Public Acts of 1919, being sections 287.261 to 287.290 of the Michigan Compiled Laws.
Shannon J. Hanna, a policy and regulations unit manager of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, has commented further in a private email sent to a silver-colored fox owner in Michigan:
If the fox looks like a native fox then it needs a permit. If it is a species that could be closely confused with a native species, then it needs a permit.
Silver fox is a naturally occurring color phase of the native red fox. Laws were enacted to prevent people from taking wildlife out of the wild to keep them in private ownership for varying reasons. Over time selective breeding has created, “designer foxes.” Many of these new phases do not look like native foxes. What we are attempting to do now is to make practical sense out of this changing situation. Therefore, we are handling privately-owned foxes that look like their wild counterparts in accordance with the original intent of the law. Fox phases that do not look like wild foxes are not treated the same as phases that look wild because they do not occur naturally in the wild (P.J. 2014).
Despite all of this, participant response chose the silver-colored fox the least often at when asked, “Which animal appears the most domesticated?” Even the standard, wild red-colored fox was chosen more often than the silver. This shows that participants viewed the silver-colored fox to appear the least domesticated of the colors: red, silver, piebald, platinum, and Georgian white and that the silver-colored coat of a fox does not automatically show that fox to be domesticated to the general public. This is further supported by Valo’s story, in which he was exterminated when found loose in the Ohio city of Fairborn because he was thought to be a wild nuisance, rather than a domesticated pet. Even though he sported a silver-colored coat, his captors suspected he may be wild and euthanized him (Crowe 2014; Moore 2014; WHIO Breaking News Staff 2014).
Government legislation may want to reconsider how coat colors actually effect community perception and possibly change these laws to better reflect community attitudes. Perhaps no coat color should be given special permissions or exceptions simply because they are colors that can only be obtained through breeding and domestication. Because fox breeding and domestication are not widely known, this fact may not be understood by a member of the community and if such a fox were to come across such a member, he might be treated as a wild animal, regardless of the law. Also, since silver-colored foxes can be found in the wild, these animals should not be automatically considered domesticated, thus not needing the permit to possess that red-colored pet foxes require in Michigan. It is most likely in the best interest of the foxes kept as pets to ensure that the animal was appropriately acquired and cared for, despite fur color.
Participants were asked to choose the fox that appeared the most attractive to them and most frequently chose Figure A, the image intended to depict a standard, wild red fox unaffected by physical changes brought on by domestication. Again, when viewing the foxes in which the stop angle, snout length, and leg length decreased and the ear curl and tail curl increased all at once, participant response was different from viewing the attributes changing individually. When viewing these images, participants preferred fox stop angles, snouts, legs, and tails that were more wild-looking and ears that were less wild-looking than when looking at this physical traits individually.
Surprisingly, when looking at images of foxes sporting different colored coats: red, silver, piebald, platinum, and Georgian white, participants most frequently chose the standard, wild, red-colored fox as the most attractive of them all. While the red-colored fox was chosen the most frequently, the remaining four colors were chosen within similar frequencies of each other. Again, community perceptions of the silver-colored red fox were not as positive as the four other color options.
Participants did not respond in compliance with available literature (Child 2011; Morey 1994). Evolutionary biologist of Duke University, Brian Hare, has worked with the Farm-Fox Experiment and commented on the physiological changes of the foxes, “Floppy ears, curly tails… All these other things that are really cute to talk about…You get a lot of stuff for free when you select against aggression” (Child 2011). A large appeal of animal owning is based upon how the animal looks. Many people find animals, especially domesticated ones like cats and dogs, to appear cute and a desire to own such animals is developed. If these facts are true and infantile traits are generally more desired in domesticated animals, then why did participants prefer the more wild-looking physical traits in the foxes? Perhaps the participants were choosing what was most familiar to them, recognizing the wild fox’s distinct traits and feeling more comfortable and happy with them than the unfamiliar domesticated traits not commonly found on foxes.
Participants also gave responses to which pictured red fox they would most like to own as a pet. Like before, when viewing the foxes in which the stop angle, snout length, and leg length decreased and the ear curl and tail curl increased all at once, participant response was different from viewing the attributes changing individually. When viewing these images, participants preferred fox stop angles, snouts, legs, and tails that were more wild-looking and ears that were less wild-looking than when looking at this physical traits individually.
When participants were asked to choose the fox that they would most like to own as a pet when looking at foxes with five different coat colors: red, silver, piebald, platinum, and Georgian White, participant responses were similarly frequent for all choices except the silver-colored fox. Again, the red-colored standard, wild fox was responded to the most positively while the silver-colored fox was given the least amount of positive response. Oddly enough, these responses were not entirely the same as the responses given when asked to choose the fox that looked the most attractive. While participants did choose the red-colored fox the most frequently as the most attractive and the most desirable as a pet, the platinum fox that was chosen the second most frequently to show the most attractive appearance was chosen as the third most desirable as a pet in these responses. Again, it was demonstrated that what participants choose as the most attractive looking fox may not be the fox they would most like to own as a pet, and again, the silver-colored fox is the least frequently chosen.
The physical traits of the foxes that participants thought were most attractive varied from the traits of the foxes that participants most wanted to own as pets. Why would participants not want to own the pet that looked the most attractive to them? Did the physical traits suggest behavioral traits to the participants causing them to choose a fox with different physical traits that may have seemed to contain more desired behavioral traits? Or perhaps, did the more infantile traits not appear more attractive to the participants, but simply enticed the participants to want to own the animal? Morten Kringelbach believes that infantile traits found in dogs fuel a need to nurture in humans and increases the desire to care for them, “There’s something about the way that the facial features are organized that makes us want to care for them, and it’s about having a large forehead, it’s about having large eyes, big ears. And there’s something about that that almost unconsciously we cannot help ourselves but actually like” (Child 2011). Brain scans have confirmed that emotional responses are similar in people viewing baby faces and dog faces, but not when looking at adult faces (Child 2011). These results suggest that the infantile features found in domesticated animals brought on by neoteny and pedomorphosis (Morey 1994; Price 2002) stir a parental instinct within humans and create the desire to own and care for the animal. Perhaps the physical features that look the most attractive to a person are not as strong an indicator of whether the person will want to keep the animal as a pet as how cute the animal appears to the person.
Knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment
Foxes as Pets
Even though knowledge of fox domestication isn’t commonplace, participants were given a description of the foxes resulting from the ICG’s Farm-Fox Experiment and asked to rate how confident they were that these animals would make good pets. Surprisingly, the responses participants gave differed depending on how the fox appeared. Participants were more confident that a fox would make a good pet when the fox’s tail curled upward, thus a fox’s tail curl angle may have the biggest effect on making the animal appear as if it could make a good pet. However, when a curled tail was combined with multiple features of domestication, the effect was decreased in effectiveness. The fox’s stop angle and body parts decreasing were the least successful of the physical features to make the animal appear to make a good pet.
Participants were less confident that a fox would make a good pet when looking at an illustration of a fox than not looking at an illustration and were less confident that a fox would make a good pet compared to a dog making a good pet.
When participants were asked if they would like to own any of the foxes from the set of five images as a pet, responses were again different based on the appearances of the foxes. For every single set of images, though, participants most frequently responded that they would like to own one of the foxes as a pet. Participants most wanted a fox from Section IV A, the section highlighting changes in the fox’s stop angle and body part lengths, and least wanted a pet fox from Section IV E, the section showing changes in multiple physical traits of the fox. Regarding dogs, on average, participants wanted a dog as a pet more than a domesticated fox as a pet.
Attitudes toward foxes as pets were also addressed as participants responded to how well they thought particular foxes would be as pets based on physical appearance, as well as how worth the money and trouble foxes are worth to keep as pets compared to keeping dogs as pets. About 65 percent of participants responded having an interest in owning a domesticated fox as a pet compared to 88.8 percent wanting a dog as a pet.
This study also revealed the low percentage of people who have knowledge of the fox farm experiment conducted by the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novisibirsk, Russia, suggesting that the domestication of the red fox is not widespread.
Lastly, the illustrations used in this survey helped analyze participant attitudes toward the physical appearances of foxes. From these results, it is better known what physical traits are most important to causing a fox to look domesticated, attractive, or desirable as a pet and to what extent these physical features need to be altered to achieve such results. Precise measurements were given in order to exactly measure perceptions and transformations.
These results can be utilized by those desiring to better understand attitudes about domesticating wild foxes and selling them as pets. Legislation can find use in this research in order to analyze common perceptions of foxes and how best to regulate the ownership of pet foxes to protect the animals and the communities in which they live. Fox breeders may find use in these results as they determine which physical traits to emphasize or manipulate when breeding foxes and to what extent the manipulation should be affected. Fox importers, such as Mitchel Kalmanson, can use this information as they prepare for each year’s supply and demand of foxes and figure out what the pet fox community wants in their foxes. Even the researchers at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics can benefit from the results of this study as they caters their foxes as pets and learn how these animals are being received by the outside world.
This study intended to find a stronger correlation between pet-dog owners’ attitudes toward pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes compared to non-pet-dog owners’ attitudes toward pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes. Unfortunately, the number of participants who declared never having owned a pet dog was too small to allow inclusion of this correlation in the analysis.
This study also intended to find a correlation between participants’ knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment conducted by the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novisibirsk, Russia and their attitudes toward pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes, but the number of participants’ who responded having knowledge of the experiment was too small to allow inclusion of this correlation in the analysis.
Another limitation was the measurement of the participants’ attitudes toward breeding pet dog ethics, owning pet dog laws, breeding wild fox ethics, and owning pet domesticated fox laws. Only one question was asked to assess each of these ideals.
Further, the original Pet Attitude Scale developed by Donald I. Templer et al. in 1981 had to be modified to specifically measure attitudes toward pet dogs and pet-dog ownership and pet domesticated foxes and pet domesticated fox ownership. The original selected survey items from the Pet Attitude Scale were more precisely reworded, removing negative sentence structures. The original Pet Attitude Scale was also modified from a bipolar scale to a continuous, linear scale indicating magnitude of agreement with the items.
This study also relied on the use of illustrations to produce images of foxes physically manipulated by the effects of domestication. While illustrations allowed the ability to standardize the images by keeping the animal’s pose, stance, and body proportions the same, photographs may have provided alternate results. Participants may have responded differently when seeing these physical changes in actual animals rather than in fictional illustrations. The illustrations may have also inaccurately represented the manipulation of physical traits in red foxes by domestication, thus affecting participant response.
An increase in the number of participants may allow the inclusion of correlations between pet-dog owners’ attitudes toward pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes compared to non-pet-dog owners’ attitudes toward pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes if a large enough sample of non-pet-dog owners can be collected.
An increase in the number of participants may also allow the inclusion of a correlation between participants’ knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment conducted by the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novisibirsk, Russia and their attitudes toward pet dogs and pet domesticated foxes if a large enough sample who have knowledge of the experiment can be collected.
In order to better measure participants’ attitudes toward breeding pet dog ethics, owning pet dog laws, breeding wild fox ethics, and owning pet domesticated fox laws, several more questions should be constructed.