Outdoors Girl: What about neighbor feeding the foxes?

February 21, 2010|By Candus Thomson

A Howard County writer, who asks for anonymity for obvious reasons, writes: My home sits very near the borders of the Clarksville and Middle Patuxent environmental areas. We have seen an increasing number of foxes the past few years - at first while walking the trails and now just about everywhere in the neighborhood. The neighbors behind me started setting out food on a tree stump about four years ago, which attracted a fox around the same time every evening. My wife and I have a small dog, and we became concerned about its safety. The last thing I wanted to do was to get on bad terms with these neighbors. I made an anonymous call to the Department of Natural Resources, and the person with whom I spoke said that nothing could be done without proof. I took a few photos but then decided to spend approximately $3,000 to fence in my backyard. Now the neighbors feed at least three foxes each evening. When we walk our dog, it is not unusual to spot a couple of foxes lying on a neighbor's lawn. This can't be good for the foxes, and I would think it creates risk for children and pets. What should be done?

Outdoors Girl sees a teachable moment here and turns to the old professor, Pete Jayne, DNR's associate director for game management, who replies:

Putting food out for wild animals is almost universally a bad idea that creates problems for the animals and people. Fed animals begin to associate humans with food, and can eventually approach people expecting handouts. In many cases, when a normally nonaggressive wild animal has attacked a human, it's because it has been fed. Foxes aren't a threat to people, even if conditioned to being fed, but having one too close might make someone uncomfortable.

Handouts can disrupt the normal activities of wild animals, throw off their nutrition and create deficiencies in their diet. Having several animals using the same feeding site will increase the transmission of parasites and diseases between the animals visiting the site and others in the area. With foxes, the most devastating outcome is mange. Over my career I have seen several foxes dying of mange - it is one of the more disturbing ways to die I have seen. Feeding foxes will almost certainly increase the potential for mange.

There are several remedies to the situation besides fencing. Contact the Wildlife Hotline (877-463-6497) for advice on how to discourage foxes or to ask for the name of a wildlife damage control operator. These licensed individuals will remove problem wildlife for a fee and have techniques that are adaptable to community settings. A list is on our Web site: dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/wlproblems.asp

Finally, if you get us a phone number, we can speak with the offending parties. We may or may not succeed in changing their minds, but at least we can inform them of the ramifications of their actions.

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