The Truth About Euthanasia at For Fox Sake

We keep hearing about nasty rumors being spread about For Fox Sake. Most recently, someone publicly accused us of gassing all of our raccoons to death. (We has the less-than-professional reaction of, “Wait, WTF?” upon hearing this.)

So we’re here to clear the air because we value transparency and honesty. And here is the honest, blunt, sometimes unpleasant, verifiable truth:

We do euthanize some animals that come into our care. But we NEVER euthanize an animal unless absolutely necessary. We are in this job to save animals, not to kill them. But there are times that it *is* absolutely necessary.

Most of our euthanasia cases are because of a very contagious, very painful, essentially untreatable viral infection called canine distemper. Canine distemper is extremely common and causes immense suffering as it invades the animal’s central nervous system. It is also virtually indistinguishable from rabies. We euthanize any animal who comes to us with canine distemper because keeping these animals alive is cruel and jeopardizes the safety of every animal in our care. We don’t like doing it but we will never force an animal to suffer through such a painful disease and can’t risk the infection spreading to our other patients.

In a few cases, we have had to euthanize animals for other infections and injuries that were terminal, untreatable, and/or made it so the animal could have no quality of life. We make those decisions case-by-case and with the same care and compassion we would give a beloved pet. We do not believe in making animals suffer.

Here’s the part we hate: in some cases, state law requires us to euthanize healthy animals because they have bitten someone or because they are not releasable. In Tennessee, any bite by a wild skunk, fox, or raccoon must be treated as a possible case of rabies exposure. There is no test for rabies in a living animal, so we have no option but to comply with state law so the animals can be tested. And due to regulations by the Tennessee Department of Health, all wild-born, nonreleasable skunks, foxes, and raccoons must be euthanized. We *have to* comply with state law or we will lose our permit.

There is nothing that angers us more than having to kill healthy animals, especially because it has been preventable in 100% of cases. Every single healthy animal we’ve been forced to euthanize has been someone’s illegal pet that had become too tame to release, too old to rehabilitate, and/or had bitten someone. We are forced to kill healthy animals because of OTHER PEOPLE’S selfishness and irresponsibility, when these animals could have been saved if they came to us in infancy.

That isn’t fair to us. It isn’t fair to the animals. It isn’t what we’re here to do. And if you want us to stop doing it, spread the word that wild animals should not be kept as pets.


Don’t Move a Box Turtle Somewhere “Better”

Have you ever seen a box turtle in a busy or barren area and decided to move it elsewhere? You’re not alone. Many box turtles get moved by well-meaning people who want to help them find a better place to live than a suburban lawn near a heavily trafficked road.

The problem is that turtles die when this happens. A box turtle naturally has a small home territory just a few acres wide, and it contains the turtle’s familiar shelters, hiding spots, and feeding grounds. The turtle loses all this when suddenly dropped into a strange new place.

To make matters even more serious, box turtles are equipped with a powerful internal GPS system that compels them to return to their home range, even crossing highways and forgoing food on the long walk home. One study found that over 60% of box turtles die in their first year after being removed from their home range.

If you’re lucky enough to find a box turtle in the wild, please leave it alone! It’s already right at home where it is.

Bobcats Have Eye Spots on their Ears

The black and white marks on the back of a bobcat’s ears are actually false eyes. False eyes are very common in nature and appear on all kinds of animals, from birds to butterflies. Among cats, bobcats share their eye-spot ears with lynxes, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, pumas, and servals— among many others!

For bobcats, eye spots serve a few purposes. One is to frighten and intimidate other bobcats. When a bobcat is angry, it tends to flatten its ears against its face, which automatically turns the eyespots forward so they become more visible. This creates an illusion that makes the bobcat look very large, alert, and aggressive.

A bobcat’s eye-spotted ears also turn outward and become very visible when the animal crouches to eat or drink. This sends a message to rivals and scavengers: “I see you thinking about stealing my food, and don’t even think about it!”

Finally, when seen from behind, the eye spots on a bobcat’s ears can trick larger predators, like bears and wolves, into thinking that they’ve been spotted. They may mistake the bobcat for a larger, alert animal looking right back at them! This is particularly important for protecting kittens when they first begin hunting alone!

Domestic cats are among the few members of the cat family who lack white spots on the backs of their ears, so this trait is one helpful way that you can tell the difference between a bobcat and an ordinary house cat!

Rough Green Snakes are Excellent Neighbors!

This little gem is a rough green snake, one of our most beautiful native reptiles. Rough green snakes are excellent neighbors. They eat large numbers of cockroaches, termites, ants, crickets, earwigs, and centipedes, and also occasionally snack on newborn rats and mice. Green snakes aren’t venomous and almost never bite humans, even when provoked and handled. We’re thankful for the small but vibrant population of wild rough green snakes who live here at For Fox Sake!

Although they aren’t endangered yet, rough green snakes face several problems. Because they eat mostly insects and may live near homes and businesses, they’re very susceptible to poisoning by common pesticides. Rough green snakes are also often stolen from the wild and sold into the pet trade, where they often die prematurely from improper care. Some people also kill rough green snakes due to general fear and misunderstanding of snakes.

Please help protect our native reptiles! If you’re lucky enough to have rough green snakes (which you may not even see!) please protect them by leaving them in peace and reducing your use of lawn pesticides.

Cowbirds: “What’s with this one weird egg?”

Our native North American wildlife is amazing! You might one day see a nest with one egg that looks completely different than those around it. It’s not a mutant and you’re not crazy!

Brown-headed cowbirds are the most common nest parasites in the United States, including here in East Tennessee. Brown-headed cowbirds reproduce by laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Cowbird eggs have been spotted in everything from hummingbird nests to owls’ nests! When the new cowbirds hatch, the unsuspecting host parents raise them along with their own young.

You might be tempted to “rescue” a host nest from a cowbird egg. Please don’t! Cowbirds aren’t evil; this is simply the way they they reproduce. Like other native birds, brown-headed cowbirds are protected by federal law. Removing a cowbird egg is also likely to cause more harm than good, since studies have found that cowbirds retaliate and destroy nests that rejected their eggs. Please let these incredible animals continue to live and reproduce in the way nature intended!

Your “pet” raccoon will be killed. It’s your fault.

Folks, we need to have a talk. This isn’t a pleasant, cute, or cuddly talk, but it’s one that we Tennessean animal lovers need to have.

I get calls all the time from people who find baby raccoons and, instead of calling a qualified rehabilitator, they choose to raise the animal as a pet. By the time I am contacted, the raccoon is almost always too tame to ever be released, and has also bitten people.

These raccoons have to be killed.

If you have been bitten by a wild raccoon, you may have been exposed to rabies. There is no approved test for rabies in a living animal, and no quarantine period known to reliably identify rabies in raccoons. Raccoons with a certain variant of rabies can sometimes have the virus for months, with few or no symptoms.

If your wild “pet” raccoon has bitten you or someone else— something that is inevitable for a stressed wild animal in a human house— I am required by law to refer the raccoon for euthanasia. After it’s euthanized, it’s decapitated and tested for rabies so the bite victim will know if they need post-exposure treatment.

There’s no way to candy-coat this. It’s ugly. It’s unfair. It’s horrific. It’s the exact opposite of what I want to do with my life. I don’t euthanize animals for fun. Every single case haunts me. But I will never risk my permit or your life because you thought it would be fun to raise a raccoon yourself.

This is completely preventable. If you have found a raccoon or any other wild animal that needs help, please contact a permitted rehabilitator immediately. Not after it’s stopped being cute, not after it’s gotten aggressive, not after it’s bitten your child, not after it’s become gravely ill from improper care. Call a rehabilitator immediately.

Don’t sentence an animal to death. And please, don’t put me in the position of needing to be part of it.

Don’t let raccoons see you feed them!

This year, For Fox Sake has received over a dozen calls about raccoons who had gotten too friendly and had become a nuisance. Because For Fox Sake is not authorized to remove or relocate nuisance animals, these calls were referred to wildlife operators, who ultimately killed them. This happens all over the country and leads to the death of thousands of innocent animals every year.

While you may be fine with raccoons getting used to your hand-outs, your neighbors are likely to disagree. Raccoons who approach humans for food are often mistaken for being rabid, or they may cause damage to a neighbor’s home by breaking into trash cans and attics. This is a death sentence for the animal.

In general, feeding wildlife isn’t a good idea. But, if you insist on giving a hand to your local trash pandas, please do so in broad daylight when they’re nowhere to be seen and NEVER feed them directly by hand. For the safety of the animals, don’t let them figure out that you’re the source of their snacks.

There is no such thing as a humane leghold trap!

For Fox Sake has treated several wild animals with horrible injuries caused by leghold traps. In every case we have seen, the traps had been set by people who believed a common industry lie— that modern leghold traps are nothing like those of the past, and that they safely and humanely restrain animals without harm.

It’s true that steel-jawed traps with “teeth” are no longer sold. Today’s steel traps certainly look much more humane than their predecessors and are marketed with safe-sounding terms like “cushion” and “soft hold.” But behind the smoke and mirrors, all leghold traps still function by using immense pressure to restrain an animal by its limb, and the animal is very likely to get hurt in the process.

Please choose more humane alternatives. If you absolutely must trap an animal, use a cage trap.

U.S. Rabbits Don’t Burrow

Cottontail rabbits are often unfairly blamed for lawn damage. Because wild rabbits in Europe form large warrens out of clustered burrows, the image of a rabbit burrow has entered our culture through everything from children’s books to cartoons. If you assumed that wild rabbits have been digging burrows in your lawn, you’re not alone!

The fact is that cottontail rabbits nest not in burrows, but in very shallow depressions or hollows. These nests are so small and shallow that they’re very easy to miss and often indistinguishable from patches of dry grass. If you have conspicuous tunnels or burrows in your yard, there are many possible residents— including groundhogs, chipmunks, pocket gophers, and moles— but wild rabbits aren’t among them.

Love Persimmons? Thank a Raccoon!

Although persimmons aren’t as popular as they once were, you might still be lucky enough to find them at farmer’s markets and international grocery stores. If you’re lucky, you might also have a persimmon tree providing fruit on your own land! Believe it or not, the American persimmon as we know it wouldn’t exist without raccoons. American persimmons have a very low germination rate unless they’re passed through the digestive system of a raccoon. Persimmon trees and raccoons co-evolved to help each other out, with the persimmon being a steady annual food source for raccoons, and the raccoon helping persimmons to disperse and grow. American persimmons almost never grow naturally in areas where raccoons aren’t there to help!