A student who has become a surrogate mom to an abandoned vixen kit told how the adorable creature is now best friends with her pet Labrador—aping the Disney movie The Fox and The Hound.
When Gemma Holdway, 19, and her family discovered five two-day-old foxes nestling into hay on their farm in Bath, Somerset, England, they feared the kits might die when their mother failed to return.
So, they took them in, intending to give them to an animal hospital to eventually be released back into the wild.
But, the runt of the litter, a little vixen or female, ended up imprinting—a critical period of an animal’s life when it forms attachments—onto Gemma and her boyfriend Dan Pearse, 19, leading to her adopting and hand-rearing her.
Now animal science and management student Gemma, who feeds, bathes and walks the fox called Vixey alongside her four dogs, says:
“Vixey is definitely a dog at heart.”
“I completely understand that she is still a wild animal, and is very independent—but I also know that, now she has imprinted onto humans, she may end up being hurt if she went off on her own.”
“Wild foxes would smell us on her, and see her as something to kill.”
“We have acres of land she can run around, so she has a very nice, laid-back life and will go off exploring every day, before finding her way home before dark.”
Gemma’s dad discovered Vixey and the rest of the litter in March 2018, when cleaning out a barn—at first mistaking the animals for kittens.
The moment she saw the white tips of their tales, though, Gemma said she knew they were foxes, recalling:
“Dan had actually got there slightly before me and ended up taking a picture of his favorite one.”
“I did the same and we were both drawn to the runt of the litter—which ended up being Vixey.”
“From there, we put them in a box with some straw to keep them warm. We have CCTV, so we rewound it the next morning and watched it all back, to see if their mum came back—but she never did.”
“We live near a busy road, so we were worried she might have been run over. Without her, we knew we had to do something, or the foxes would die.”
Taking them in, the family then arranged for a nearby animal hospital to have the litter.
But, at around five days old, Vixey opened her eyes for the first time, then imprinting onto the Good Samaritans—a kind of bonding between a baby animal and the first thing it has visual, auditory or tactile contact with, helping them to gain a sense of species identification.
Sadly, it meant being released back into the wild could be very dangerous for Vixey, as her identification with humans meant she might not have learned certain behaviors vital for survival, like predator awareness or hunting skills.
“Foxes are shockers for imprinting.”
“None of us realized at the time, as it happened so quickly, but once they open their eyes, that’s it. Whoever they see first is mum.”
“We knew we had to act fast to get the rest of them to the hospital, so we took them right away. Three have now been released back into the wild and one is also domesticated like Vixey.”
Realizing she was destined to keep Vixey, Gemma set about arranging her injections and introducing her to her four dogs: Labrador Luna and Jack Russells Raisin, Nidge and Polar Bear.
“Luna, in particular, was very wary at first. She didn’t quite know what Vixey was and was unsure when she’d try to play with her.”
“Now they absolutely love each other. They’re the very best of friends.”
“Vixey follows the dogs everywhere, copying what they do. Raisin rules the roost, so has almost taken on the role of Vixey’s mum.”
Fortunately, Vixey eats similarly to her canine chums, preferring wet dog food or dry biscuits to cooked meat.
“We’ve tried giving her chicken, or a pig in blanket at Christmas, but she doesn’t like either.”
“She’ll carry them around in her mouth, before hiding them somewhere.”
Gemma is also currently trying to get Vixey used to wearing a lead, hoping to, one day, take her on walks with Luna, Raisin, Nidge and Polar Bear.
“We’re getting there with lead training. She wears a collar and bell, which she’s fine with – the bell in particular is a godsend, as she’s so fast, that it helps us know where she is.”
“But she hated having a lead clipped onto it. Right now, we’re trying a ferret harness, as it’s the only thing that fits her narrow body.”
“Once she’s trained, we’d love to take her out, but are wary about other dogs and people at the moment.”
Respectful that Vixey is still a wild animal, Gemma allows her plenty of time to roam around her land, which has been “fox-proofed” so she cannot escape and predators cannot get in.
The adorable creature will enjoy a 30 minute run each morning before breakfast, then has the rest of the day to explore.
“She always makes her way home before dark. She’s very intelligent, and can remember where she lives.”
“She’ll then come in to sleep for the night. She either sleeps on my bed, or under the sofa.”
“She is also completely house-trained, and either goes to the toilet outside, or in a litter tray.”
“We have learned the hard way not to leave any shoes lying around though, as for some reason, she sees them as toilets, so wees in them.”
While Gemma knows that many people have negative opinions about foxes, with a string of stories hitting the headlines about them getting into homes and biting people, she insists that Vixey has a gentle temperament.
“People can be wary of her when they meet her, but she is far more likely to run off and hide until she trusts someone than attack.”
“She recognizes all of us, so will run to the door to greet us.”
“Foxes only tend to bite when they feel threatened or are protecting their young, so if ever she seems in a strop and shows her teeth, we know to just leave her alone.”
“She has nipped us a couple of times, but there’s never any nastiness with it – and you get the same when training a puppy.”
“Foxes are scavengers and they are opportunistic, which people don’t like. But the way Vixey hunts is fascinating, as she’s learned a lot from the dogs so copies their movements.”
And Vixey is now firmly entrenched as a member of Gemma’s family.
“We all adore Vixey, but not everybody has been nice about her. It would have been great to release her, but it was simply too dangerous.”
“She has a lovely life with us and as long as she’s under our roof, she’s nobody else’s business.”
“We’ve fox-proofed the garden so she can’t get out and attack anything, but she also has lots of land to run around on.”
“Anyone who meets her can see how happy she is.”
Though she dotes on Vixey, Gemma is careful not to encourage others to get foxes as pets, as her situation is very unique, saying:
“Although Vixey is a great member of the family, we wouldn’t recommend having a fox as they are highly demanding and aren’t suited for living in a typical domestic environment.”
Student Gemma has become a surrogate fox mom to the adorable creature after finding her and her siblings abandoned at two days old