Why do foxes polarise opinions?
I can’t tell you how often I have spoken to a neighbour about foxes when they’ve told me that they are pests and I shouldn’t feed them. They just don’t like them. I love them. This polarisation of opinion between two people, myself and my neighbour, is mirrored across the UK and I suspect that the same feelings exist in North America and other countries.
Why do foxes polarise opinion so much? How can you call them pests? I think the problem is part of our history in the same way that black cats are. A lot of people are scared of black cats and they hate them. They believe they bring bad luck and that they are mean and nasty; an historical legacy of witchcraft and the bubonic plague. I love cats, all cats, and their coat colour is irrelevant to me.
Foxes have a similar kind of history. They have a public profile which is less than good. Some people see them as cunning and destructive. They kill lots of chickens unnecessarily; a real problem in days gone by when people were struggling to survive. The fox has been characterised in early texts e.g. Chaucer, as a nasty predator and a cunning foe. We’ve even incorporated the word “fox” into our language to mean crafty and tricky.
For example, if you say that Mr A outfoxed Mr B you mean that he was smarter than Mr B and he got one over on Mr B. It implies that Mr A might not be a particularly nice person but a smart person nonetheless. As I said, the image of the fox is not great. And the reason goes back to the history of this animal which lives close to humans, in human settlements.
The urban fox is everywhere in the UK and I’m sure its the same in other countries including America. We rub shoulders with them, we interact with them and this I think brings out strong views about foxes. We have to have an opinion about them because they are there in front of us.
Also, in the UK, the domestic cat is very commonplace. It is said that there are about 9 million domestic cats in the UK and about 99% of cat owners in the UK allow their cats to go outside all the time. This means cats meet foxes which in turn means that cat owners have an opinion about foxes and whether they will harm their cats.
A lot of people think that foxes harm domestic cats and even eat them. My personal opinion is that both fox and cat have decided to live and let live. They just get along and mind their own business – normally. It will only be when a big fox encounters a vulnerable, perhaps elderly cat that a fox might attack. Other than those circumstances foxes are too smart to try and attack a domestic cat because they have very successful weapons i.e. teeth and claw. But the fear remains and many cat owners lack the knowledge to dispel their fears.
There is a long history of foxhunting in the UK and elsewhere. This creates societal tensions. It indicates, highlights and reinforces humans’ polarised opinions about foxes and indeed about our relationship with animals in general: the master servant relationship originating in Christianity. Notwithstanding that you will find that foxhunters say that they love foxes. That is a contradiction and rather bizarre thing to hear but apparently it does happen.
Other people think that foxes smell a lot. You can smell foxes and they do smell quite strongly. Perhaps people associate strong smells with disease and spreading disease to people. There’s also this human trait to control their damned environment. They want everything in place and controlled and do not want any interference from a ‘pest’. Animals get in the way of their human-controlled territory. Foxes, under these circumstances become vermin like mice and rats. It’s a human trait born out of arrogance and a lack of sensitivity towards wildlife and nature.
Often, humans have distanced themselves from nature to the point where it is detrimental to their health but they do it nonetheless. They can be ignorant and arrogant. Foxes are beautiful. They live with us and amongst us. Live and let live I say. Be kind to them. They are handsome creatures doing their best to survive in a human environment which is often extremely hostile towards them. They need sympathy. We should show a tender heart towards them.