The gray fox spotted around Arroyo Grande has been euthanized after a complaint that it killed a resident’s chickens. On Friday, news of that decision shocked much of the South County community that had grown fond of the little fox.
The fox was trapped and euthanized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services department, USDA public affairs specialist Tanya Espinosa confirmed Friday.
“Wildlife Services responded to a request for assistance as a citizen reported a fox was attacking and killing her chickens,” Espinosa wrote in an email to The Tribune. “Unfortunately, due to state laws, the fox was unable to be relocated and had to be euthanized.”
Espinosa did not respond to further requests for comment on the decision to put down the fox that had become something of a mascot for The Village.
Community members responded to the news of the fox’s death with outrage and even tears Friday, with many questioning why the animal was not relocated or taken by a wildlife rescue group.
“My children were devastated, and it just sends such a horrible message about how we care for other living creatures,” resident Dana Longman said. “Total disrespect for life when there were so many other answers to solve this problem.”
Councilwoman Kristen Barneich, one of the first to share photos of the fox on Facebook when it appeared in September, said she was similarly devastated when she heard the rumors the fox had been killed.
“My heart just sank,” she said. “I’m not going to lie, I shed a tear.”
Barneich said she would see the playful fox in the Village while walking her dogs; he would often be playing on the grass, hunting bugs and watching passersby. Over time, people began flocking to the Village parks to try and spot the unusually friendly critter.
“It kind of brought this community together,” Barneich said. “With everything bad going on in the world, it was a positive thing we could all kind of rally behind.”
Julia Di Sieno, executive director and co-founder of Animal Rescue Team Inc., said she was outraged to hear the fox had been killed rather than rehabilitated.
“This is completely unacceptable,” she said. “This was wrong on every level. We could have taken it in and it could have been ‘wilded up.’ ... This fox is as innocent of a wild animal as it gets. It’s like killing a neighbor’s cat.”
According to Peter Tira, information officer for California Fish and Wildlife (which was not directly involved in the capture of the fox, but was notified after the fact), state law prohibits relocation of wild animals, except in special circumstances.
In the example of Arroyo Grande’s fox, which appears to have become accustomed to people, relocating it to a new area would not have stopped the problem but just moved it to a different area, he said.
“Whenever you interact with wildlife, it ends badly,” Tira said. “Especially in instances where people are feeding it and it becomes accustomed to humans. It comes from a nice place, but it never ends well.”
Fish and Wildlife’s outreach campaign “Keep Me Wild” discourages people from feeding wild animals. On its website it warns: “If bears and other wild animals damage property or threaten human safety, they might be killed.”
David Main, director of Conservation Ambassadors Inc., which runs the popular Zoo to You outreach program, also warned against feeding wildlife, no matter how cute they are.
“The victim here is the fox,” he said. “The villain is the person or persons who habituated it, not the state. As loving as it may seem, ‘a fed animal is a dead animal.’ People should never, ever habituate wildlife. It will only end like this.”
Main said his organization was not contacted about the Arroyo Grande fox, though the organization has rescued displaced wildlife at the request of Fish and Wildlife before. They currently have a gray fox ambassador that was habituated in Morro Bay and taken in by the organization.
Going forward, Di Sieno noted that she thinks there needs to be changes to the policy of only allowing rescue groups to take in wild animals that are sick, injured or orphaned, and allow for more nuanced situations likes Arroyo Grande’s fox.
“Everything is situational, but there was a way to handle this,” she said. “Why wasn’t anyone given the opportunity to assist? We need to hold someone accountable, because those animals belong to us. Wildlife is for all of us.”