Faux Foxes: Fox Domestication and Pet Ownership | Chapter I: Michigan Community Forces Relocation of Anya the Domesticated Fox

Michigan Community Forces Relocation of Anya the Domesticated Fox

After losing her fox, Viktor, to the Texas government because of state laws on fur-bearing animals, Kay Fedewa began to turn her sights on a new Russian domesticated fox at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics. On December 7, 2011, Fedewa posted to the Sybil’s Message Board forum titled, SIBFOX SCAM and domestic fox discussion, about the new fox, “The female’s name is Anya. She is 8 months old (same age as Viktor) and related to him. Over the summer she was taught tricks like a dog. She is described as being very friendly toward people and incredibly clever.”

 

Anya the Red-Colored Domesticated Red Fox

 

On November 12, 2012, The Siberian Times wrote an article about Anya and her summer training. Irina Mukhamedshina, a PhD student at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics with experience training dogs, spent time training Anya, (sometimes called Anna or Nyuta) and Elma, two of the institute’s domesticated foxes. “I had seen these foxes daily, wiggling their tails and jumping to get a tiniest bit of human attention, and got really curious about the possibility of working with them the same way as I used to do with dogs,” she told the Siberian Times. “’My first task was to make them forget about digging the soil and running around, but instead to encourage them to consciously come close to me,” she explained. “Then I moved on to the classic commands, such as ‘stand up’, ‘lie down’, ‘sit down’. It took me about three weeks of daily 15 minutes sessions to teach them do these commands” (The Siberian Times 2012).

In PRI’s The World’s report on March 20, 2014 (Cleek 2014), Irina Mukhamedshina is noted for training a new fox, Viliya. Irina stresses to The World that even though a fox can be trained to obey commands, it doesn’t have the concentration of a dog. She describes Viliya as “disobedient and not totally house-trained” (Cleek 2014).

Fedewa decided to pursue Anya and acquired the help of USDA-certified exotic animal importer, Mitchel Kalmanson and veterinarian, Renee Baker, of the World Wide Exotic Animal Talent Agency, LLC., Certificate No: 58-C-0505, located in Maitland, Florida (USDA, 2015). On December 7, 2011 she posted to the Sybil’s Message Board forum, “I have decided to try and adopt Anya. I have my USDA friend arranging importation documents as we speak. We plan to fly there, pick her up, and bring her back so that she never leaves our possession.” After arrangements were made, Kalmanson traveled to Russia without Fedewa to collect Anya and personally accompanied her during her flight to the United States. “It’s like a 30 hour each way trip and I’d have to take off too much work so I’m not going,” explained Fedewa in a forum post on February 6, 2012. On February 17, 2011, Anya became the first Russian domesticated fox to be successfully imported into the United States (Fedewa 2012 February 2a).

Shortly after Anya was successfully imported, Fedewa posted a new forum on February 21, 2012 on Sybil’s Message Board stating, “Due to our success, the Russian institute would like to have Mitch (my importer) and I take over the operation of distributing domestic foxes to homes all over the world.” She created The Domestic Fox: Bringing Russian Domestic Foxes to Homes around the World, a website dedicated to informing people about domesticated foxes and providing answers of how to acquire the animals and began taking orders for future fox purchases (Fedewa 2012 February 2b).

Every year, Mitchel Kalmanson makes annual trips in the fall to the Institute of Cytology and Genetics to personally escort Russian domesticated foxes into the United States as imported exotic pets. On the Russian-Siberian Domestic Fox page of his website Lester Kalmanson Agency Inc., located at www.lkalmanson.com (World Wide Exotic Animal Talent Agency, LLC. 2014), one can find information about owning these animals as pets and placing an order. Four color choices are listed: silver/black, red, platinum, and Georgian white, and either sex, male or female, can be purchased. The final purchase price is $8,900.00, no matter the color or sex chosen. $3,200.00 is paid to the Institute of Cytology and Genetics for the purchase of the fox, and $4,800.00 is paid in transportation fees. A non-refundable deposit of $1,250.00 is required and 50% of the balance must be paid before shipment (World Wide Exotic Animal Talent Agency, LLC. 2012). In a 2012 interview, Fedewa explained that the institute’s fees include vaccination, sterilization, microchipping, and the cost of the animal, while the transportation fees include transportation of the fox and Kalmanson as he personally escorts the fox, a custom-built steel transport cage for the fox to meet airline regulations, documentation, preparation, fees, and licenses (Jacobs 2012).

 

Four Red Fox Colors Available for Purchase from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics

 

Kalmanson has successfully imported several foxes into the United States including Anya, Arsi, and Dasha, three red-colored foxes, Pusha and Prada, two platinum-colored foxes, Dante and Elga, two silver-colored foxes, and Dior, a Georgian white-colored fox (Fedewa 2013). “They’re just like any dog. It’s quite fascinating that we’re able to train them to sit, stay; they’ll fetch they’re balls, they’ll play with you,” he told ABC News. “You can fall asleep on the couch watching TV with a fox next to you; it won’t hurt you” (ABC News 2013).

Although Anya was successfully imported into the United States on February 17, 2011, she was not immediately able to live with Kay Fedewa in her home state of Michigan. “Anya won’t be coming to Michigan for a while,” Fedewa posted to the Sybil’s Message Board (2012, March). “My importer has a facility outside of Orlando where Anya will be living until the [Michigan Department of Natural Resources] DNR gets around to issuing my permit.” Anya lived with Kalmanson in Florida until Fedewa was able to acquire the proper documentation to own a pet red fox in the state of Michigan (Fedewa, 2012 February 10).

According to Chapter 324 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Act 451 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Article III Natural Resources Management, Chapter 2 Management of Renewable Resources, Subchapter 1 Wildlife, Division 1 Wildlife Conservation, Part 401 Wildlife Conservation, Section 40106 Game or protected animal; taking, releasing, transporting, selling, buying, or possessing; construction of section. of the Michigan Compiled Laws:

A person shall not take, release, transport, sell, buy, or have in his or her possession game [any species of wildlife designated by the legislature or the natural resources commission as game under section 40110, including fox] or any protected animal, whether living or dead, or parts of any game or protected animal, from this state or from outside of this state, except as provided for in this part or by an order of the department or an interim order of the department.

Chapter 324 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Act 451 Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Article III Natural Resources Management, Chapter 2 Management of Renewable Resources, Subchapter 1 Wildlife, Division 1 Possession, Sale, Regulation of Wildlife, Part 427 Breeders and Dealers, Section 324.42710 Orders; rules. of the Michigan Compiled Laws gives the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the ability to issue orders:

(1) The department may issue orders considered necessary by the department to protect the public interest and to provide for the proper administration of this part. Orders under this part shall be issued according to the procedure for the issuance of orders provided for in part 401.

(2) The department may promulgate rules designating certain game that do not require protection under this part and that may be possessed, propagated, purchased, or sold without a license.

Following this law, The Captive Wild Animal Order of Michigan states:

Under the authority of section 42710, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, as amended, being section 324.42710 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, the Director of the Department of Natural Resources ordered that effective March 11, 2005, the following regulations shall read as follows:

20.3 Permits.

Sec. 20.3. (1) Except as provided by section 20.4, only a person who has submitted an application to the wildlife division permit specialist for a permit to hold wildlife in captivity, being form PR 1350, in accordance with the instructions on that form, and who possesses a valid permit to hold wildlife in captivity shall be considered, for the purposes of subsection 42709(2) of part 427, breeders and dealers, of the natural resources and environmental protection act, Act No. 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being subsection 324.42709(2) of the Michigan Compiled Laws, “persons holding permits authorizing the possession of the game” or “licensed game breeders.” A person possessing or desiring to possess migratory birds, such as ducks or geese, shall comply with all federal regulations and permit rules in addition to state of Michigan regulations. This includes the physical marking of waterfowl by removal of the hind toe on the right foot of each bird before it reaches the age of 4 weeks or by other federally approved marking methods.

The referenced “form PR 1350” refers to the Michigan DNR’s 2014 Form IC1350-1 Permits to Hold Wildlife in Captivity. This form further describes details of possessing foxes as pets. “Permits to Hold Wildlife in Captivity authorize the possession of animals reared in captivity only,” it states, assuring that the permits “do not authorize the possession of animals taken from the wild” (p. 1). The form continues:

A Permit to Hold Wildlife in Captivity is required to possess, propagate, sell, transport, or make any other commercial or personal use of live animals defined as game or protected in Michigan. In addition, a Permit to Hold Wildlife in Captivity is required for the possession of live animals which closely resemble game or protected species and can reasonably be confused with game or protected species as determined by the Department (DNR 2014, p. 1).

The Michigan DNR’s 2014 Form IC1350-1 Permits to Hold Wildlife in Captivity also specifically mentions the possession of particular foxes as it states:

A Permit to Hold Wildlife in Captivity is also required for the possession of the species listed within the following groups: ducks (all North American species except properly marked mallards), fox (red, gray, and silver), geese (all North American species), Grouse (ruffed and sharp-tailed), pheasants (ring-necked, Sichuan, and look-a-likes from the genus Phasianus per Types of Pheasants Regulated), swans (mute and tundra) (DNR 2014, p. 1).

Unfortunately, a permit wasn’t the only obstacle preventing Fedewa from finally possessing her Russian domesticated fox. On January 9, 2012, Fedewa created a new forum on the Sybil’s Message Boards, titled Sigh…neighbors, explaining that she had decided to inform her neighbor that she would be adopting a domestic fox in order to create an open relationship with her neighbor and not surprise her with the appearance of a wild animal being kept on the property. Unfortunately, Fedewa had disappointing news to report. “Now that she knows that’s what the enclosure [I’m building] is for, she is interfering with construction, harassing my construction guy, and getting into my business,” Fedewa wrote. On January 10, 2012, Fedewa had more to report, stating that her neighbor was continuing to harass her hired construction worker while she was away, proclaiming that Fedewa shouldn’t be allowed to have the fox and that it probably wasn’t legal to possess.

“There are no county or city ordinances that are contrary to the State laws regarding this animal or any exotic animals,” Fedewa wrote (2012 January 9). “Actually in their Ordinance Code Definitions the fox isn’t even an exotic animal since the species is native to Michigan.” Fedewa was referencing the Farmington, Michigan – Code of Ordinances, Part II – Code of Ordinances, Chapter 35 –Zoning, Article 21. – Definitions, Section 35-252. – Definitions as of March 19, 2012 which stated:

Animal, domesticated: Any animal that is commonly considered capable of being trained or is capable of adapting to living in a human environment and being of use to human beings, and which is not likely to bite without provocation, nor cause death, maiming or illness to human beings, including: birds (caged), fish, turtles, rodents (bred, such as gerbils, rabbits, hamsters or guinea pigs), cats (domesticated), lizards (nonpoisonous) and dogs. Wild, vicious, or exotic animals shall not be considered domesticated.

Animal, exotic: Any animal of a species not indigenous to the State of Michigan and not a domesticated animal, including any hybrid animal that is part exotic animal.

On January 11, 2012, Fedewa reported on the Sybil’s Message Boards that her neighbor had called the city about Fedewa’s plans to house a wild animal on her property. In response, the city had posted a notice at the construction site ordering construction to cease. After speaking with the head of zoning, Fedewa was given a meeting the following day with the head of zoning and an attorney to discuss the situation. Fedewa wrote that her neighbor had been telling all members of the community about the wild animal, including the neighborhood watch. “I’m going to have to go to the next neighborhood watch meeting to explain to people that my fox is not wild or vicious and is no threat to anyone,” Fedewa lamented on the forum. “I am going to have to do everything you guys suggested to keep security as tight as possible and make sure no one tries to sabotage the enclosure or hurt Anya. I am amazed what people will do out of ignorance and fear” (Fedewa 2012, January 11).

After receiving a cease and desist order, even Fedewa’s builder began to feel uncomfortable about the fox. On January 22, 2012, Fedewa wrote, “Prior to the building inspector knowing it was for a fox, he had approved the enclosure. Now that he knows what it’s for and that a neighbor complained, he’s made me stop building.”

Despite everything, Fedewa was able to work things out and on February 6, 2012, she declared that her enclosure was complete and that she had submitted an application for a state permit. “If my neighbor would not have interfered with construction, I could have had my permit by now,” she commented. She also mentioned that she had an appeal with the Farmington Zoning Board on March 2, 2012 and would be attending a Town Council meeting on February 13, 2012, in which the approval of a ban on the ownership of exotic animals would be discussed. “If a ban passes, I will be looking for a house in a different city,” she concluded (Fedewa 2012 February 6).

Before Anya could live in Michigan, Fedewa needed to acquire the appropriate Michigan Permit to Hold Wildlife in Captivity (DNR 2014). On January 13, 2012 on Sybil’s Message Boards, she had posted, “My enclosure is half finished. I can’t get my permit to allow me to bring Anya into the state until I have my enclosure inspected. Then, it will take up to a month or so for the government to approve and prepare and send to me my permit.” On February 27, 2012, Fedewa posted to the Sybil’s Message Boards that she was having difficulties obtaining her DNR permit. She explained that a DNR officer had arrived at her home to inspect her fox enclosure in order to approve her permit, but she wasn’t at home and the inspection was not able to take place. “Now they aren’t returning my calls. Called 10 times today,” she wrote (2012 February 27b). “If I would have been here, he would have done the inspection and I’d have my permit in time to bring her [Anya] home this weekend” (2012 February 27a).

In The Captive Wild Animal Order of Michigan, having the appropriate enclosure for an exotic pet and receiving inspections from DNR officers is mentioned:

20.5 Enclosures and sanitation; mute swan requirements.

Sec. 20.5. (1) Except as provided by subsection (2), animals held in captivity shall be confined to the licensed premises at all times. Animals shall not be chained or otherwise tethered to stakes, posts, trees, buildings, or other anchorage. Each animal shall be provided with an enclosure which meets the requirements of section 20.6, and shall be provided with rainproof dens, nest boxes, shelters, perches, and bedding as required for the comfort of the species held in captivity and to protect them against inclement weather or extreme heat. Animals in captivity shall be handled in a sanitary and humane manner and kept free as far as practicable from parasites, sickness, or disease. Permittees shall provide an enclosure of such strength and type of construction that it is impossible for the animals to escape, and shall keep all fences and enclosures properly repaired.

20.6 Enclosure size and amenities, requirements.

Sec. 20.6. The minimum enclosure size and required amenities for the species designated in this section shall be as follows, except that newborn mammals may remain with their parents until weaned:

Enclosure size; badger, bobcat, fox, and raccoon.

(1) Badger, bobcat, fox, or raccoon:

(a) Single animal: 8 feet long by 6 feet wide by 6 feet high.

(b) For each additional animal, increase horizontal cage size by 24 square feet.

(c) Clawing logs and a den site 2 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet high required for each animal.

(d) A climbing tree with 3 or more 4-inch diameter branches shall be available for each raccoon or bobcat. A 14-inch by 36-inch protected shelf area shall be provided for each animal. Bobcat or raccoon platforms shall be at least 3 feet above the floor; fox and badger platforms shall be 1 foot above the floor.

Inspections.

(14) A conservation officer or other representative of the department of natural resources may inspect the premises, pens, animals, records, and facilities of a permittee at any reasonable time.

On February 28, 2012, Fedewa had a new update posted on the Sybils Message Board. She explained that she called the DNR office about rescheduling a new inspection and was told that she needed a city permit in order to possess a fox as a pet because the city was in the process of approving a new ordinance banning the possession of exotic or wild animals as pets. Fedewa explained that she was aware of the new ban passing and was moving to a new home in a different city, but had received an exception from the city until then. “On March 19th, I was meant to bring Anya to the City Council and introduce domestic foxes to them and explain why according to their own definitions she would be considered domestic and why she is not dangerous,” she wrote. “The City Council is expecting this and I have the City Manager’s permission to do this. I can’t get Anya into the state to bring her to the council meeting if I don’t have my state permit.” Fedewa was told that the city of Farmington would not approve her permit, so the state was not able to issue it (Fedewa 2012 March 1).

Fedewa was correct that the city of Farmington was working on approving a new ban on the possession exotic animals as pets. As of May 10, 2013, the Farmington, Michigan – Code of Ordinances, Part II – Code of Ordinances, Chapter 35 –Zoning, Article 21. – Definitions, Section 35-252. – Definitions had updated the description of an exotic animal from “any animal of a species not indigenous to the State of Michigan and not a domesticated animal, including any hybrid animal that is part exotic animal” (Farmington, Michigan – Code of Ordinances (2012 March 19). §35-252) to include a much greater variety and more in-depth description that included more animals, including foxes:

Exotic or vicious animal:

(5) Non-domesticated carnivorous animals, including hybrid crosses of non-domesticated carnivorous, including, but not limited to, raccoons, skunks, and foxes.

“I bought another house in another city but the closing date isn’t for another month or so. At that point I will have to begin construction on another enclosure,” Fedewa concluded. She would not be able to import Anya into Michigan until after she moved out of Farmington, built a new enclosure, had the enclosure inspected by the DNR, and had her Permit to Hold Wildlife in Captivity approved by the city and state (Fedewa 2012 March 1).

On May 3, 2012, Fedewa had good news to share with the forum. “Next weekend, on the 11th, 12 or 13, Anya will be coming home,” she declared. “I finally have the piece of paper which ‘qualifies’ me to own a fox.” Fedewa explained that she had re-applied for a new Permit to Hold Wildlife in Captivity after moving to a different city and building a new enclosure. An inspection was scheduled, then rescheduled, and the permit was finally approved. On May 15, 2012, Fedewa created a new forum post on Sybil’s Message Board announcing the successful acquisition of Anya. “I just wanted to say that Friday, May 11, Anya flew from Florida to Detroit and is now living with me!” she exclaimed.

After researching the Institute of Cytology and Genetics’ fox-farm experiment, Kay Fedewa became determined to own a Russian domesticated red fox. After her first attempt to import a fox into the United States failed and the fox was confiscated, she tried again, this time successfully importing the fox, but facing retaliation from her community, city, and state. After moving to an entirely different city, rebuilding a new enclosure for her fox and meeting all of the requirements to finally earn her Michigan Permit to Hold Wild Animals in Captivity, Fedewa was finally united with her pet (Fedewa 2012 May 15). She has since paved the way of importing Russian domesticated foxes into the United States and several foxes have since been imported (Fedewa 2013).

“After all the money she cost, I have been asked – do I feel like I made the right choice when I could have gotten a wild fox for a fraction of the cost?” Fedewa wrote in a post on May 30, 2012, referencing ranched foxes. “My answer is a definitive yes. I recommend a domestic fox.” Fedewa followed up with comments that Anya has a willingness to please that can be seen in dogs and that she knows her name and can be trained easily. “I’m pretty sure that the love for interaction with people that I see in her, which is one of the things that makes her such a fun pet, is something that will flourish even more if these animals are adopted at younger ages” (Fedewa 2012 May 30).

Unfortunately, Anya’s story does not end well. On September 26, 2014, Fedewa posted a status update on the Facebook social media page she had created for Anya. “To all of Anya’s friends, I must tell you now that our beloved and special Anya has passed away. She was mortally wounded by a coyote.” Fedewa explained that Anya’s outdoor enclosure that had been specially built to provide for Anya and had been meticulously crafted. “We took great pains during the construction to be sure nothing larger than a mouse and the occasional mole could get in or our [out] of her habitat. We kept it padlocked to make sure no strangers made off with her, either” (Fedewa 2014 September). Apparently, it was not built well enough.

Continuing in the 2014 Facebook post, Fedewa wrote that she had noticed canine bite marks on Anya’s muzzle one morning. “The only way this could have happened was if she stuck her muzzle through the holes of the chain-link and either a coyote or large stray dog on the other side bit her during the night.” Anya was immediately taken to the vet and her wounds were treated and disinfected. To prevent anything from happening again, a layer of chicken wire was stapled to the outside of Anya’s enclosure. “I folded these sharp ends down with pliers but still felt like Anya could get snagged, or scraped, or her eye put out or something. So it was with that worry that I decided to put the chicken wire on the outside,” Fedewa wrote on Sybil’s Message Boards (2014 December). “I thought this would be sufficient. I was wrong. I underestimated the strength, intelligence and will of the animal that wanted to get Anya,” stated Fedewa.

A few months later, the animal returned and successfully killed Anya. Fedewa wrote in the 2014 Facebook post that police inspection had determined that a coyote had torn a hole through the chicken wire in order to get to Anya’s enclosure. In response, Anya must have put her front paw through the chain link fence to interact with the animal. The animal then grabbed Anya’s enticing paw and pulled her entire leg through the chain link fence with enough force to completely dismember it from Anya’s body. Anya lay in her enclosure and bled to death throughout the night.

“It’s a very hard thing to have had to come to terms with, and very hard to speak and write about,” Fedewa commented in the Facebook status update (2014). “The pain of finding someone you love like this is deep and hard to recover from. I wanted to protect her from all pain and suffering in her life. I couldn’t, and it is utterly heartbreaking.”

“I was always very proud of the design, workmanship and ‘no cut corners’ of my enclosure,” Fedewa wrote on December 20, 2014 on a forum post in Sybil’s Message Boards. She then recommended that outdoor fox enclosures be reinforced with 17 and up gauge welded wire on the interior side of the fence with no larger than 1 inch spaces between the wires. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) recommends using good fencing to reduce coyote predation, such as net-wire fencing with horizontal spacing at less than 6 inches (15 cm) and vertical spacing at less than 4 inches (10 cm) (ODNR 2013). Fedewa has since reinforced the interior of her own outdoor enclosure with heavy gauge that has been proven too strong for coyotes to destroy. “If I had put the chicken wire on the interior, it would have done the job I’m pretty sure. It wouldn’t have been able to have been bitten away like that,” she reflected. “It was a hard, hard lesson I learned here, but hopefully it will be of use to prevent similar things from happening again to others’ beloved foxes.”

Anya’s story is one of challenge, strife, and heartbreak. It shows that in order to successfully own a fox as a pet, one must be incredibly well-researched. One must know and understand the state, city, and local laws and ordinances regarding the ownership of foxes as pets and must be prepared to defend himself and quote these laws when challenged. Even so, laws can change and one must be aware of these changes in order to protect his animals. The government and community are not the only enemies threatening a fox, however, as wild animals can also bring about harm to a restrained target. Fox owners must build enclosures that not only provide enrichment for the animal, but also safety and shelter. Despite everything Kay Fedewa and her pet Russian domesticated red fox Anya, went through, it was a wild coyote that ended their bond.


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