For some people, red foxes sound like the most adorable pets imaginable. For others, these animals are a pest. Because European red foxes threaten native wildlife in Australia, government officials have encouraged citizens to shoot them on sight.
Fortunately, not all foxes share this fate. One baby fox was spared by a farmer and sent to an Australian rescue. There, he befriended another abandoned animal, and the two become the real-life version of The Fox and the Hound. Read the story that warms the heart of animal lovers across the world.
This orphaned baby fox had little chance to survive. Learn why.
European Red Foxes Struggle In Australia
Most people think that foxes are cute. In recent years, pet owners have adopted domesticated foxes and shared them on social media. However, Australian residents have a different relationship with these furry creatures.
In the 1850s, Europeans introduced red foxes to Australia for recreational hunting. Since they can survive in nearly every habitat, European red foxes have become the most widespread carnivore in the world. But this isn’t good news for Australian wildlife.
Why Australians Kill Foxes On Sight
In Australia, European red foxes are considered a pest. Government officials believe them to be dangerous because they harm the local ecosystem. In Tasmania, foxes prey on 77 different species, including the near-threatened wallaby.
In one study, researchers found that removing foxes in an environment greatly increased other species’ populations, including the black-footed rock wallaby. Hence, Australian officials encourage residents to kill foxes on site. Although it sounds cruel, they do it for their environment.
What Happened To A Lucky Baby Fox
One day, when a baby European red fox (called a kit) stepped onto a farmer’s property, his fate seemed sealed. Following the country’s “bait and shoot” program, the farmer decided to seek out a gun. He went to his neighbor’s house to retrieve one.
…But his neighbor wasn’t home. Stumped, the farmer pondered how to remove the kit from his farm. He decided to call the Sydney Fox Rescue, which became the fox’s guardian angels.
But the lonely kit wouldn’t remain alone for long.
The Sydney Fox Rescue
Animal lovers in Australia oppose the Pest Control Order (PCO) and its handling of foxes. One such organization is the Sydney Fox Rescue, which works to educate people on safe, environmentally-friendly ways to control the fox population. The group microchips, vaccinates, and neuters baby foxes so that they can live out their days peacefully.
PCO outlaws vetting, healing, sheltering, transporting, and rescuing foxes. Since 2012, however, animal advocates have been protesting these laws. Groups like the Sydney Fox Rescue save the baby kits’ lives.
Growing Into Willa
When the farmer called the Sydney Fox Rescue, volunteers came to pick up the baby fox. They named him Willa. Fortunately for Willa, fox rescuers never release the animals back into the wild. After checking Willa for ticks and diseases, Sydney Rescue passed Willa on to the Sugarshine Sanctuary.
In New South Wales, Sugarshine provides a safe home for animals who don’t have owners. Their sanctuary houses lambs, cattle, ducks, pigs, goats, and of course, foxes.
Making Friends At Sugarshine
At Sugarshine, Willa can live in his natural habitat and be kept safe. The kit joined four other foxes: Custard, Blossom, Toffee, and Athena. Willa and Athena quickly became close friends. Unfortunately, Athena was killed by a python soon after.
Alone again, Willa searched for a new friend. Lucky for him, Sugarshine sheltered several animals that he could cling to. One of them happened to be an abandoned greyhound named Isabel.
In a twist of fate, two abandoned animals became the closest friends.
Isabel The Slow Greyhound
Isabel, nicknamed Izzy, was a retired racing greyhound. Since her owners no longer “needed” her, they considered euthanizing her. Fortunately, a stranger overheard Izzy’s death sentence. She stepped in and volunteered to bring the greyhound to a rescue group.
Izzy’s rescue sanctuary turned out to be Sugarshine, where Willa would later arrive. Nobody anticipated that the two would become fast and adorable friends, the real-life incarnation of The Fox and the Hound.
The Unlikely, But Perfect, Pair
Then Willa, the orphaned kit, and Izzy, the retired greyhound, became best friends. As if they met through fate, the two became inseparable. Izzy’s easy-going personality nurtured Willa’s rambunctiousness, and the dog became the fox’s new mom.
Sugarshine’s co-founder Kelly Nelder says that Izzy demonstrates impressive patience. “She’ll let Willa all over her, steal her food, and snuggle against her tummy,” she explains. The unlikely pair spent all of their time together.
Foxes? Friends with MY dog? It’s more likely than you think.
Foxes And Dogs Belong To The Same Family
Both dogs and foxes stem from the same species, called canidae. However, their lineage splits off from there. Dogs stem from the canis genus, while fox species belong to vulpes. They are different enough that they can’t cross-breed, but dogs and foxes can still be friends.
While dogs live for around 10 to 13 years, foxes only live two or four years. Also, foxes are shyer than dogs. European red foxes, in particular, are known for their hesitancy.
Surprisingly, Not All Dogs Enjoy Foxes!
In the wild, most foxes steer clear of other people and animals. But when certain dog breeds sense foxes, they usually don’t like them. Both species are vehemently territorial, and dogs don’t often like a fox’s scent.
Of course, not all dogs immediately avoid foxes. After all, individual animals tend to be more dominant and territorial than others. Some lucky pairs, like Willa and Izzy, don’t mind each other one bit. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
Izzy and Willa, However, Get Along Well
Kelly Nelder also reported that Willa loves to play with Izzy’s tail. “He sneaks behind her, stares at her tail for a while, then pounces,” Nelder describes. “If he gets hold of her tail, he tries to take it to his hiding spot with his toys. He doesn’t seem to realize that Isabel’s [tail is] permanently attached!”
Izzy and Willa often went to the beach together. Izzy responded to Willa’s antics by putting the fox’s entire head in her mouth–but it’s all in good fun!
Although Izzy and Willa received a happy ending, most foxes in Australia still struggle to survive.
Now, Foxes Can No Longer Be Pets
For a moment, Sugarshine staff worried over whether they could keep Willa. A recent Australian law prohibited foxes from being kept as pets. Fortunately, Willa was registered as a pet before this law came to be. This made him exempt from the ruling!
Although Willa can still thrive in the sanctuary, he can no longer go to the beach with Izzy. From now on, any foxes caught in the future will be euthanized.
Why Doesn’t The Government Just Catch Foxes?
Many activists have argued that Australian officials can work to capture and contain foxes rather than euthanizing them. Unfortunately, species management strategies are incredibly expensive. To catch a fox, specialists have to bait a fox; and it costs $1.3 million to bait a 13,500 sq m (35,000 sq km) area.
Fencing areas to limit fox expansion are even more expensive. One kilometer of fencing costs around $10,000. Of course, Australia’s animal lovers work to contain foxes on their own, without pay.
Foxes Live In Danger
Australian officials believe that, by outlawing foxes as pets, they can curb the population by inhibiting fox importation. While this may be true, Nelder still opposes the law. “There are no evil animals,” she claims. “Yes, wild foxes can be deadly to wildlife, but if kept in enclosures and well cared for, they are no longer a threat but are beautiful funny with loads of personality.
“They shouldn’t be killed just for being born a fox,” Nelder continues, “but unfortunately the current pest order means just that.”
Coming up: another duo who prove that foxes and dogs make the cutest friend.
Even So, Willa Remains Safe
As of 2019, the fate of Australian foxes remains to be seen. But Willie and Izzy live safely and happily in Sugarshine Sanctuary. He frolics and plays with his best friend while spreading awareness of the fox debate in Australia.
The sanctuary shared Willa’s story on their Facebook and Instagram, and the real-life fox and hound tale spread like wildfire. Internet users can’t get enough of this cuddly couple.
Willa And Izzy Aren’t The Only Fox-Hound Pair
While Will and Izzy have inspired people worldwide, their story mirrors a similar tale that played out six years before. In 2012, Norweigan photographer Torgeir Berge took his German shepherd, Tinni, for a walk.
While Berge and Tinni strolled through the woods, they came upon an abandoned fox. “He was a puppy, and probably his mother had died, so he sought help and company, and food,” said Berge’s co-author Berit Helberg.
Tinni and the wild fox became The Fox and the Hound before Willa and Izzy did.
Sniffer’s New Friendship With A Domesticated Dog
After meeting the fox, Berge named him Sniffer. Every time Berge and Tinni went on their walk, they came across the fox named Sniffer. Eventually, the fox and German shepherd played together. The pair messed around for a couple of hours every day.
Like any photographer, Berge began snapping photos of the fox-dog friendship. He posted his adorable pictures to a nature photography group on Facebook, where they eventually went viral.
How The Friendship Changes Peoples’ Minds
As Berge observed Sniffer and Tinni’s friendship grow, he changed his mind about the fix-fur trade. He now wants to see it banned. On Facebook, Berge wrote, “Foxes are just like dogs in their behavior and personality. It brings tears to my eyes in pure pain, when I think about the millions of Sniffers… locked inside cages all their lives.”
Helberg said that Berge’s photos help “increase the knowledge for people who are not aware of how similar foxes and dogs actually are.”
Don’t Worry–Tinni And Sniffer Got Their Own Book!
Torgeir Berge and his friend, writer Berit Helberg, plan to transform his photographs into a picture book, according to TODAY. “Not many people are privileged to see and enjoy a friendship like this,” Helberg said. “But Torgeir Berge has both seen them in action and gotten the opportunity to catch this in images that don’t need words.”
Berge hopes that spreading the story of Tinni and Sniffer will raise awareness for animals impacted by the fur trade.
Sniffer And Tinni Are Still Friends Today
Helberg’s book, titled Sniffer and Tinni, is available to the public. Meanwhile, Berge continues to post photos and videos of the fox and dog’s adventures. The two animals wrestle and run around like they’ve been friends all their lives.
Tinni and Sniffer continue to walk and sleep together. Their story parodies Willa and Izzy’s story that occurred in 2018. It seems that foxes and dogs have more in common than most people think.