I made myself a cup of coffee this morning and was walking toward my laptop, when I caught a glimpse of an animal in the backyard.
For a split second, my brain said "Oh, another deer." (We get a lot of deer.) Then quickly, "Wait, it's tiny... a baby deer... no, a fox!"
I have seen a fox in the yard from time to time. It's very rare and usually just a quick glimpse as they are darting away, bushy tail swishing behind.
This fox was different. For one thing, he was lounging in a patch of sun, apparently in no hurry to be on his way. For another, he had practically no fur, a thin scraggly tail, and he was scratching-- a lot.
I snapped a few hasty pictures, but a sound outside scared him off. (Unfortunately, I grabbed my camera in a hurry without changing the previous settings, so the pics are not great.) While I was talking to Peter and the kids about it, the fox came trotting back through the yard.
We all agreed that this was not a healthy fox. A Google search quickly convinced us that our fox has Sarcoptic mange. Red foxes with mange are lethargic and tend to stay close to houses. They eat under bird feeders and look for bowls of dog or cat food. They hide under decks and rest in the hay in barns.
You can tell a Red fox has mange by its straggly appearance. Our fox is missing large patches of fur, has a thin tail, and was almost constantly scratching himself. Mange is caused by microscopic mites that get under a fox's skin and weaken the immune system, eventually leading to organ failure.
I called Animal Control, but the answer was not good. The woman I spoke to was very nice -- and she confirmed that it is mange -- but said there was nothing Animal Control could do and the fox would "succumb to the disease". From my description of his condition, she said he's probably in the late stages already.
I was a little surprised. I had called Animal Control once before about an injured cat in the woods and they came right out to help. It turns out it is not their policy to intervene when a fox has mange and they recommend that residents do not attempt to help wild animals either. It's just part of nature.
When I pressed, she said rescue groups in some states do attempt to put out medicated food for foxes with mange, but the Game Warden in our area does not recommend that.
I'm trying to resign myself to the fact that it's just a part of nature, but it's difficult to see a sick animal and not be able to help.