Coming Up Short

Sometimes the job of a wildlife rehabilitator is frustrating – you work long hours to save a patient only to lose it in the end, or in this case you never find your patient at all….

Thursday night we admitted a gorgeous female Red Fox that McHenry County Animal Control recovered in Huntley. She died within five minutes of getting her inside before we had even finished administering meds and running her intravenous catheter. She was in shock upon admission after being hit by a car. To make matters worse, she was a lactating female and was quite heavy with milk which is usually an indicator of very young kits.

It was late in the day – maybe only two hours before dark.

I immediately called one of our volunteers who is exceptionally capable and who I knew would drop everything and help if she possibly could. I explained the situation to Kim and, of course, she headed straight out to Huntley.

We had information from the residents that in past years the Fox used a den in the park less than a block south of where she was hit by car. They also knew that the Fox typically used a long culvert and she had been spotted in the park in the preceding days and weeks.

Kim called in after dark to report that she had not found the kits. She checked the park thoroughly but had limited access to the culvert which she estimated to be a 300′ long 1-1/2′ diameter concrete pipe. She had shone her flashlight in the pipe from both ends but knew she didn’t come close to seeing the whole thing. The kits could be anywhere in the middle.

The next morning, we started planning for a pipe/sewer inspection camera to check the entire length of the reported den location for kits. We called the police to make sure that if they received any calls regarding the Fox kits that they would direct them to us. Although we suspected the kits were too young to leave the den, we weren’t positive and didn’t want to take chances. We then contacted the Village to see if they had an pipe/sewer inspection camera. They didn’t but were very helpful. They provided names of about five companies in the area they used. At the same time we called the Village, we also called a friend and fellow rehabilitator who gave us the name of her personal plumber, Kevin.

We called Kevin first of the list of six names. “Well, as a matter of fact,” he said “I just rented one of those cameras this morning.” Stars aligning!

Kevin unbelievably called his afternoon appointment and explained the situation to his client who and agreed that Kevin should look for the kits before helping her so he made arrangements to meet Kim at the location shortly after noon. Amy, another great Flint Creek volunteer, was also going to assist in any recovery or search more, if necessary.

We contacted the management from Del Webb’s Sun City. They began coordinating a communication effort for their area residents to make sure that Flint Creek would be called if anyone saw the kits, saw the male Fox or had other information regarding the den location.

The pipe inspection began just after 12:30 pm. Kevin was phenomenal. Not only did he donate his time, but he arranged for the camera rental company to donate use of the camera. Sadly, video inspection of the entire culvert revealed no Fox kits.

Kevin King inspects the culvert pipe using a pipe/sewer camera looking the Fox kits.

Kim and Amy began searching. Amy and Kim mapped out all of the areas where they found Fox scat (feces) in an attempt to hone in on other possible den locations. One of the beauties of Sun City is large areas of woods and open space but this made the search feel like we were looking for a needle in a haystack. I joined up with the search effort later in the afternoon as Kim and Amy continued to walk many acres.

As Friday evening approached, we found a Fox den in the woods. There were signs that the den had been recently occupied, but no Fox kits. The den contained a recent Great Horned Owl kill and some unidentified mammal remains were nearby. We assumed that this was only one of the dens Mom Fox was using and that she had moved her kits elsewhere.

The Fox den in an uprooted tree, above, and the den entrance complete with remnants from a Great Horned Owl, below.

As dusk descended we packed up and left, all of us disheartened and feeling like we were leaving the kits behind.

We had been Facebooking our Fox saga and Christine, a wildlife rehabilitator from Ontario suggested we try dogs – brilliant!

Saturday morning brought another Flint Creek volunteer, Pam, to the scene as well as another flurry of phone calls – this time to network finding a Fox hunting dog. Thanks to many people (some of whose names I didn’t even know), we were eventually led to some very nice people Brian and Michelle, owners of Ricci, three-time High-Point Champion, and Dexter, not a champion yet but horribly cute. Brian agreed to help us locate the den.

Brian met me on site that afternoon along with Ryan, Jody and Zack and dogs Ricci and Dexter. Jody headed out one direction with Dex while Brian headed out another direction with Ricci.

Definitely not a Fox kill, but we did find this beautiful skull/rack from a buck.

Sadly, after hours of searching, Brian and the dogs concluded that we had probably identified the correct den location in the uprooted tree but that the kits had probably been killed the very first night.

This clearly wasn’t the news we wanted and despite our considerable efforts we came up short. Many volunteer hours and the help of many really good people went into locating these kits – all to no avail. I can only rest knowing two things: 1) there are good people who dropped everything and went the extra mile to help us help the kits and we are grateful to each of them and 2) we did everything possible to ensure that the kits weren’t left behind to starve and suffer a slow death.

Thanks to the following people:
Kim, Amy and Pam – Flint Creek Wildlife volunteers
Kelly – McHenry County Animal Control
Lynn, who originally contacted us about the hit-by-car Mom Fox
Linda – dear friend and fellow rehabilitator who recommended Kevin King
Village of Huntley Police
Denise – Village of Huntley Public Works who provided us a list of pipe/sewer inspection resources
Debby Seger – Del Webb Sun City for coordinating communications amongst the residents
Kevin King – plumber who donated his time to video inspect the culvert pipe
The company who donated the rental of the pipe/sewer inspection camera
Candy – American Working Terrier Association who hooked us up with Brian and Michelle
Brian, Michelle, Jody, Zack, Ryan – owners and handlers of Ricci and Dexter who brought their dogs up to Huntley and spent hours looking for the den
Ricci and Dexter – fantastic dogs and working Terrier champions

And if you need a plumber in the Chicago area who was kind enough to help us and donate his services, please call Kevin King at New Century Plumbing 847/526-2706.

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