Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
December 1997


A Run-in with a Fox
by John Stansfield, Pikes Peak Group Conservation Chair

Sometimes "environmental issues" just reach out and slap you in the face.

Driving home late one night recently, I was thinking about Pikes Peak and the environmental issues forum I had just attended in Colorado Springs, when a furry streak appeared for a split second in my headlights. Simultaneously I felt the thump beneath my wheels. I knew it was a fox I had hit, even before I went back to check.

The fox lay, as if resting, on the edge of the pavement. I parked my car, flashers on, encroaching on the southbound lane. I tried to shoo the fox off the road, but it dragged itself back into the roadway instead. Its hind legs were not working. Though cars sped around the tight curve, it crawled across safely. It lay in the roadside grass, alert, eyes bright and staring as I considered the animal and the situation. My Red Cross card shouted from my wallet, telling me how different this was from a human emergency. There was no blood evident. The fox was small, maybe young or a vixen or both. The animal was hurt badly but obviously not dying. No obvious signs of rabies. At first I thought, "Better to leave it here. Let nature take its course". But then, how natural was it that my deadly, speeding piece of technology had injured the animal? I decided to seek aid for the fox, if it would let me ... if I could find any ... And if not? I didn't know.

Using unwieldy canvas shopping bags to protect my hands and arms, I placed a folded blanket over all but the tail. It lowered its head to the ground and let me gently examine its spine through the blanket. When I lifted, there was no struggle. The body was very light. I carried it to the open trunk of my car, where it lay motionless. No bites, no scratches, no errors--except in my judgment, perhaps. I hastened home.

A call to my veterinarian found him groggy, irascible and with no advice. Calls to the Colorado Division of Wildlife found their "roadkill line" constantly busy. My wife's call on the fox found it alive and feisty, hardly roadkill, anyway. We discussed and discarded options for euthanasia. At last I reached Animal Emergency Care, an after-hours clinic in Colorado Springs, and learned that--wonder of wonders!--they treated injured wildlife.

"This could cost a lot of money," my wife reminded me gently. I grabbed my checkbook and sped back to town.

"Are you the fox?" the smiling technician asked as I entered the clinic. The fox scurried around as we opened the trunk lid. A good sign. As the leather-gauntleted technician lifted the fox by the scruff of its neck, I saw its back legs kick the air powerfully in unison. Another good sign. The fox was out of the trunk and in good hands.

Moments later I got the report from triage. The fox was sedated to help relieve muscle spasms around the lower spine, possibly no broken bones but definitely a cut to be sutured. I was amazed and guardedly optimistic.

"Oh, and fleas everywhere," the technician laughed, removing one from her neck. "We'll watch the fox overnight and then hand it over tomorrow to the wildlife rehabilitator, Wildlife Forever, if everything looks OK. When it's ready the rehabber will release it back into the wild."

I asked if I should file a report with the Division of Wildlife. "No," she told me, "as long as the animal goes to a licensed wildlife rehabber, you're all right. Unless you are trained and licensed, it's illegal to possess any wildlife, injured or otherwise, except in emergencies like this. Thanks for bringing in the fox."

She was thanking me? I was the one who was grateful that they were willing to assist injured wildlife, a service with certain risks implicit in the clientele. I reached for my checkbook. "Oh, no," she protested, "there's no charge. Thanks for helping. You can make a donation to Wildlife Forever Foundation though. It costs a lot to do what they do." She pointed to a large plastic container on the counter. I dropped in some money.

"Keep up the good work," I told her as I left. I sincerely meant it. I walked out smiling and headed directly to the nearest supermarket to buy supplies to clean the smelly little gift (and the fleas) the frightened fox had left in my trunk. As I scrubbed and sprayed at 12:45 a.m., I thought, "Fair trade. The fox didn't expect the crap I gave it either.''

The following night, Pam from the clinic called with an update on the injured fox. It was a female and its laceration had been successfully stitched. There were no other injuries found. That morning the fox had gone to Wildlife Forever for rehabilitation. As I hung up, I breathed the sigh of relief I had been holding for almost 24 hours.

A short while later I got an update from Elaine Webb, at Wildlife Forever Foundation. A rear leg fracture had shown up a few days later which required surgery by her veterinarian. Otherwise, Elaine told me, the fox was healing, eating well and, if all went well, would soon be released and running free--hopefully, not in traffic!


In an emergency involving injured wildlife, here are some suggestions from the experts:

As in first aid with humans, consider the potential risks and consequences before making any decision or taking any action. To decide not to act may be the necessary and sensible thing to do.

Do no more harm in rendering aid than what is already done to the victim.

Be aware that finding emergency care for an injured wild animal, especially a large one, can be difficult. Check with your local Colorado Division of Wildlife office or the state office at (303) 291-7230 for information about wildlife rehabilitators. Several State Patrol and sheriff's offices have been helpful in directing citizens to local wildlife rehabilitators.