Firefighters can respond to any number of dangerous situations at a moments' notice, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. These brave men and women put themselves on the line as they battle blazes, and they save lives and property as they do so.
A firefighter's work isn't limited to saving human lives, however. Just like one team of firefighters in Colorado found out, they could end up saving animal lives too, even if its not the animal they expect.
A Day About As 'Normal' As They Come
There's nothing very "normal" about a firefighter's day at work. There are always fires and accidents to deal with, but there are also countless other unusual situations that come up, making the job that much more unpredictable.
At the Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) one March day, the team was waiting for their next emergency call. No one could have guessed what it would be, or what a big surprise they were in for!
An Experienced Team
The crew on duty at the CSFD on this particular day had years of service between them. They'd all been through a slew of life-changing events and emergencies and were always prepared to deal with whatever situation came up.
As far as they could tell, this shift didn't seem any different than other days. And then their phone rang. A woman on the other end of the line told them that she needed help with something.
Some Animals Needed Help
As the woman spoke over the phone, the firefighters realized that their next task had been revealed to them. She said that there were some animals trapped somewhere nearby.
Not knowing much about the situation but being aware that time is of the essence in any emergency, the firefighters jumped into action and quickly loaded into their truck. They all felt hopeful that they could handle this case once they were able to better assess what was going on.
As the firefighters rushed to the place where they were needed to help, they thought through their past experiences dealing with saving animals. Some of these cases were pretty cut-and-dry while others were a little more complex.
One problem that was pretty worrisome was that they didn't even know what kind of animals they'd be trying to help. They had to be cautious, especially since animals can be unpredictable when they're in danger.
One of the most important elements of working as a firefighter is being prepared for anything. The CSFD crew had a feeling that they were going to be rescuing cats or dogs, since they were going to an address within city limits, but couldn't completely rule out another kind of animal encounter.
Fortunately, they all had experience saving animals in a variety of different scenarios. They had this job covered. Or so they thought.
Once the team had arrived on the scene, they found out just what was going on. It turned out that some animals had gotten trapped inside a storm drain, so the firefighters rushed to the drain to see what could be done.
The weather was on their side, at least. If it had been storm season the situation would have been much more dangerous for them and for the animals that needed rescuing.
Even with the weather's cooperation, the animals were in a pretty bad spot. This storm drain was not just deep, it was also dark and difficult to see into. On top of that, the water was pretty cold.
The drain's opening was pretty small, so the firefighters knew the animals inside were tiny enough to have fit in there. That meant they must be young, maybe even babies. These precious little animals needed help as soon as possible.
Taking A Peek Inside
The firefighters decided that the best way to get the trapped animals out of the storm drain and into safety was to open the grate covering the drain. They promptly did this, but nothing happened. No eager little faces appeared.
But soon enough, the team heard tiny animal cries and realized they had been right –the animals were indeed little babies! They worked even faster to reach the poor creatures.
Dealing With Darkness
Due to the fact that it was so dark inside that deep storm drain, the firefighters weren't able to get a good look at the animals they were working so desperately to save. They also weren't sure how the babies had gotten in there, since dogs and cats usually don't go to such small and wet places to give birth.
Regardless of what kind of animals these were or how they had gotten into the drain, the firefighters #1 mission was to get them out safely.
They Searched For The Mother
As one team of firefighters was working on plans for the best way to rescue the babies, another group searched the area in hopes of finding the mother. Not only did they want to locate her safe and sound, but seeing her would allow them to recognize just what kind of babies they were dealing with.
They scoured the scene but were unable to find her, leading them to conclude that the babies had been abandoned.
It Was Even More Important To Get Those Babies Out
Although rescue workers have to see and deal with traumatic things on a daily basis, they still have feelings just like any other human. And to know that these newborn animals had been abandoned by their mother made them sad.
This knowledge made them even more sympathetic to the babies' desperate need to be rescued. Some of the firefighters prayed that they wouldn't be too late to save the tiny animals. These little guys deserved a shot at life!
More Problems To Think About
After the firefighters decided that the babies must have been abandoned, they started to think about the mother. What if she hadn't left them for good, and instead was just out looking for food to feed them?
If this turned out to be the case, and they had taken the babies somewhere safe, she would never be able to find them on her own. This was a difficult decision for the team to make. And with the water in the drain being freezing cold, time was running out.
Wild Or Domestic?
In order to give the babies the best possible treatment and care, the firefighters really needed to know what kind of animals they were. If the newborns were a domestic species like a dog or a cat, they'd need to get a lot of immediate assistance.
But in the case of wild animals, it's sometimes better to leave them where they are so they learn to survive on their own. It was finally time to get into that drain and pull the babies out so they could figure out what to do next.
Of Course They Were Adorable
One of the firefighters reached the storm drain and prepared to lift the babies out one by one. As he gently carried the first one to the surface, the rest of the team craned their necks to get a good look at it.
The look on everyone's faces said it all. This was an adorably cute baby, and the rescue team fell in love with it. The rest were pulled out then, all with floppy ears, jet black fur, and skinny tails.
The Puppies Get Their First Look At The Outside World
Of course, these precious little animals were puppies! The team had plenty of experience rescuing dogs, but had never found them in a storm drain before – this was a first. It was a mystery how the pups had ended up there, since this wasn't somewhere a mother dog would normally have her young.
The firefighters then came to the awful conclusion that a pet owner was probably to blame, abandoning a litter of unwanted puppies in the storm sewer. It was a terrible thought, but the team was at least glad to have rescued the helpless dogs.
Proper Puppy Care
Once again, the firefighters were left feeling sad about the reason these puppies had ended up in their predicament. And once again, they were more determined than ever to get the babies the care they needed.
Although they hoped they were wrong about their assumption that a person had dumped the pups, the team went about making sure all their tiny rescuees were safe and healthy. First things first, they had to get the doggoes warmed up.
There were a total of eight puppies, all black. In fact, their dark coloring made their rescuer feel a little nervous that he'd leave one behind in the poorly-lit storm drain. But all were accounted for. Now came the important task of getting them all warm!
Fortunately, the newborn pups had the natural sense to pile up together. This let them share each other's body heat and warm up quickly.
The Truth Behind The Puppies' Location
The team really wanted to know the truth about how the puppies had ended up in the storm drain, so they found the person who had initially called the problem in. She reassured them that the puppies had not been dumped by a pet owner.
The caller went on to say that she'd watched the pups being swept up into a stream that was flooding into the grate during a rainstorm. The firefighters were relieved that this had all been an accident, not the result of human cruelty. They thanked the woman for calling in about the dogs.
What Breed Were They?
It can be hard to determine what breed a dog is, especially a tiny newborn puppy that's been stuck in a cold and wet drain. But as they assessed the pups' physical conditions, the firefighters tried to guess what breed they might be.
The consensus was that they were probably Labradors, since the dogs all had glossy black coats and long slender tails. Next up was a visit to the vet to get thorough checkups.
The Puppies Had Been Through A Lot
The poor little pups had been through quite an ordeal after being swept into the storm drain. Their fur was filthy. At their age, they were so vulnerable to the cold conditions they'd just been rescued from.
The firefighters brought the puppies to the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. There, they were given a thorough examination by one of the group's veterinarians. One of the firefighters, Mark Jenkins, left his phone number with the vet so he could get updates on the dogs' condition.
The Vet Called With An Unexpected Announcement
Mark Jenkins' phone rang shortly after the firefighters had dropped the pups off at the Humane Society. He initially worried that the doctor would have bad news about the pups, but was reassured that they were healthy.
As his colleagues watched, Mark listened while the vet continued to talk. At one point, he burst out laughing and the other firefighters could not figure out what was going on. After Mark hung up with the vet, he told his teammates what he had just learned.
Shocking News About The Puppies
The firefighters were fully convinced that they had rescued a litter of Labrador retriever puppies. But the veterinarian had discovered something very different about the babies that no one could have predicted.
They weren't dogs at all. They were actually baby red foxes! The vet explained that fox kits resemble puppies when they're newborns like the ones that the firefighters had rescued. So he wasn't surprised they had been mistaken.
The vet was worried about the kits' mother and he wondered whether she was OK. Since the firefighters were familiar with the area where the babies had been found, the vet asked if they'd go back to the scene and try to find her.
A mother's caring love would be the best thing for the newborn foxes, so the firefighters were more than happy to go back and look for her. After all, she might be frantically searching for her babies!
Back On The Scene
The firefighters transported the kits to the scene where they'd recently had their dramatic rescue. Although they didn't want to, they placed the babies back into the drain and then watched from a distance to see if the mother would return for them.
The team knew that she would probably be more likely to return at night, when foxes tend to be more active, so they waited patiently for the sun to set. They were praying she'd make an appearance then, before the kits got too cold.
Many Days Passed
Unfortunately, the kits' mother did not make an appearance that first night or for many nights after. The firefighters remained patient but couldn't help as days passed with no site of mama fox.
They began to suspect that something tragic had happened to her since most animal mothers would be eager to return to their young. The team decided that the next best thing to do was to find someone who could raise the kits without their mother.
Another Move For The Kits
The vulnerable young foxes had already been through so much, but now they needed to be moved once again. The firefighters removed them from the storm drain and took them to the experts at the Animal Clinic of Woodland Park, which is known for rehabilitating all sorts of animals.
Knowing that this was the best possible place for the kits to be raised, the firefighters were comfortable leaving them at the clinic. They were happy to think of the kits growing up into adult foxes under the expert care and training of the clinic's knowledgeable staff.
This story of firefighters thinking they had rescued a little of puppies, but finding out instead that they were fox kits, is pretty humorous but is also a good lesson.
The firefighters felt very fortunate that they were able to get this amazing experience with wild animals. They really hoped that their unusual story would teach the public more about wild animals and the many misconceptions surrounding them.
Not Such An Unusual Situation After All
Wildlife experts explain that it's not that unusual to find foxes or their kits in areas that are heavily populated by humans, even in larger cities. Female foxes typically have their litters toward the end of winter and they raise the young in dens.
We're still not sure where these kits were before they were washed into the storm drain. But in a city where things are unnatural and unfamiliar, places such as storm drains could very well seem like a protected haven for a fox to give birth and raise babies.
Lots Of Help And Hope
Although these poor kits lost their mother somehow, whether she abandoned them or met a tragic end, they still have a great chance of survival. After all, they've had the help of the Colorado Springs Fire Department, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, and the Animal Clinic of Woodland Park.
The odds are in their favor, and everyone who knows this story is rooting for the foxes to do well!
Protecting Our Wildlife
The story of the fox kits is a great example of the consequences of urban sprawl. Wild animals run out of space and end up in spots they normally wouldn't venture to.
As humans, we need to be aware of this and to know how to best protect the wildlife that ends up in our own backyard. If you spot an animal in need of help, please call the proper authorities. We all have a social responsibility to assist everyone who is in trouble, whether they're human or animal.
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.
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.
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 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!
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."
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.
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.