|A Fox Tale|
|Written by Jen Karetnick - BT Contributor|
It all started when my husband wanted a different kind of pet
We called her Olympia. I posted the picture of her sweet, silvery snout and curious, upright ears on Facebook the moment we brought her home, and the response from friends mirrored my own. “What a beauty!” some wrote. “Did you rescue her? Lucky girl that she gets to live with you.”
Then there were those, closer to me, who know that my husband has long enforced a ban: “What? I thought you weren’t allowed to bring home any more animals!”
Naturally, a curious few wanted to know her breed. I called her our “Russian catdog.” A couple of people took me at my word. “I didn’t know there was such a thing....”
There isn’t, of course, unless you live in a world sponsored by Nickelodeon. But I didn’t yet know the legalities of keeping a Soviet relative of Vulpes vulpes in the Shores.
See, Olympia is, in short, a Russian silver fox.
Domesticated, with doglike qualities that include whimpering, barking, licking her owners to show affection, and wagging her tail, Olympia is a particularly successful result of a program introduced in Russia 50 years ago. Many of the descendants of this selective project also exhibit these good traits, which, of course, was the aim.
But their tails became curly, or their coats piebald. Olympia’s tail is a straight, full brush, and her coat an unrelenting mass of burnished pewter. If there were a Westminster for foxes, Olympia would win “best in show.”
Still, no matter how much I admired her, I wasn’t the one to introduce her to our household (an intro that came with an involuntary explosion of highly odorous fox urine every time our dachshund and dachshund-beagle mutt snarled at her). It was all Jon’s fault.
My husband is a good man. He is certainly better than I deserve. He works harder than most people I know. He shoulders more than his share of housework, errands, and parenting responsibilities. And when it came time for his midlife crisis, not only was he right on schedule at the age of 44, he was considerate. Rather than forfeiting the kids’ college fund on fast cars or flashy women, he tried to bring home things I would like, too: exotic animals.
It began with caracals. He heard about them from a friend, a nurse in one of the hospitals where he works as a neurologist. Caracals are 50-pound felines from southern Africa and southern Asia that have dun-colored coats, long tails, and black-tufted ears. They’re related to servals but look a lot more like lynxes.
On the pet market these days, you can find two kinds of domesticated caracals: purebred and hybrids (crossed with Abyssinians and called “caracats,” or crossed with servals and called “caravals”). Jon’s friend owns both, a caracal and a caraval, and while the former is a doll, sleeping in bed with her and enjoying visitors, the latter is somewhat surly. Either way, though, the pizza delivery guy is pretty sure he’s encountering a cougar and a bobcat when he rings the doorbell at her house.
It’s thanks to these caracals that we came by Olympia. At first, Jon also thought caracals were a good idea. “When the dogs pass away, these are the next animals I want,” he said. I remained skeptical, which turned out to be a wise move. (I’m more the rescue type, preferring to pick up an animal that needs help rather than pay a bunch of money to a breeder.) After he met his friend’s big cats, he thought twice about owning animals that could, potentially, kill him in his sleep.
I also had the sense to say no when he e-mailed me early one morning with: “Hey, do you want a marmoset? My friend knows a breeder whose marmoset just had three babies. She could get us a really good deal.”
A marmoset? Had the man lost his mind? Jon had gone to great lengths to make sure we wouldn’t have a third child, but he was willing to buy me a mini monkey that would never grow beyond the size of an infant, that would have the mental and emotional capabilities of a toddler, that would sleep in bed with us and wear diapers and travel with us -- all for the next 30 years.
Jon’s third strike came in the form of rabbits. We had long ago agreed to stand firm in the face of our daughter’s resolve: She wanted “baby bunnies,” but we already had their natural enemies, dachshunds, in the house. S’more and Rolo are lovely doggies who lick children up and down, but they can’t help their instincts.
In order to pacify her, we named a cat Baby Bunny (BeBe for short). We’ve also called a cat Monkey for the same reason, after an animal we should never own. Still, Jon proved susceptible a few months ago and brought home two adorable bundles of fur. They lasted a week before a combination of Monkey’s machinations (he knows how to open doors) and the dogs’ determination ended the bunnies’ chances of survival for good.
All this predisposed me to say yes to Olympia, who was living uneasily with the caracals at the time. Caracals are highly territorial, and Jon’s friend thought they might kill her. So while she loved Olympia, having gotten her from a woman whose kid went to college shortly after acquiring the fox, she had to give her up.
Suffice to say, we never had to worry about getting Olympia a license because, after only 48 hours of chaos, we passed her on to the science teacher at my school. Her boyfriend, a trapper by trade, had been removing foxes from Barry University -- there are still plenty of wild red foxes in the Shores, including two males that live at Miami Country Day School -- and coincidentally, had been looking for an abandoned baby Vulpes vulpes to raise as his own. Olympia was perfect for him. I hear from time to time how happy she is with him down south, where he’s built her a huge pen in his backyard.
My son was distressed to see Olympia go. But he also remembers when we had chickens for six months before they flocked to a farm in Ocala, and is resigned to the unpredictability of our family’s pet situation. It’s hard to know what creature will roost with us next on its journey to its forever home, but now that this drama is over, I might just let his father back in the house.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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