I fondly remember my “lunches with Luna” during the summer of 2014. Luna was a red fox who had been hit by a car and injured very badly. Her rear leg was broken, requiring surgery and hospitalization for an extended period of time. The leg bone did not heal correctly, and Luna was left with a limp and mistrust of humans who had caused such pain. When I met her, she was in the large chain link enclosure specially designed for foxes. The Snowdon Board of Directors, in conjunction with Idaho Fish & Game, had determined that Luna’s injury rendered her non-releasable to the wild. Accordingly, the Snowdon staff was instructed to encourage Luna’s socialization to human contact so that she could become an educational animal. Years earlier, Snowdon had an educational fox named Maizey, who was very friendly toward humans and regularly visited children’s classrooms. I saw her on many occasions out and about in town with Snowdon founder Linda DeEulis. They were a delightful pair! Remembering this, I didn’t give much thought to Luna following in her predecessor’s footsteps. I asked the interns if I and my friend could help socialize Luna during our weekly volunteer visits to Snowdon that summer. And thus we began a weekly routine of having our sack lunches with Luna in her enclosure.
At first, we just wanted Luna to be comfortable around us. She was not. Her nervous energy kept her panting and pacing back and forth as we calmly watched. We offered her food, which she suspiciously took from us before running off to bury it. As we learned her food favorites – cheeses, the meats from my friend’s sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and dog treats – Luna came closer and closer, but never quite close enough for us to touch. The interns, who also spent many hours with Luna, showed us her play toys – stuffed animals, balls, and the always-popular stick with a feather on a string. She loved pouncing after the toys. Several times she even playfully grabbed my ponytail from the back, probably envisioning ambushing a bushy-tailed woodrat. I took this as a positive sign that she was getting more comfortable around us. But by the end of the summer, it was clear to everyone that Luna did not truly enjoy being around humans. You could just tell by the look on her face that she wanted a different life. Her nervousness and distrust were evident.
Everyone collectively made the decision that Luna would not become a classroom ambassador. It wasn’t fair to her to remain captive in a gravel environment surrounded by chain link. Besides, Snowdon’s mission is to “Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Release,” with a secondary emphasis on education. I fully supported the idea of a “soft release” for her. She had demonstrated hunting skills in her pen by snatching an occasional chipmunk or bird who had ventured too closely to snack on Luna’s food. And the girl could dig! She buried more food than a barrel of nut-hoarding squirrels. The plan was to transfer Luna to the 1-acre enclosure for a period of about six months, determine if she would be able to successfully hunt for her food despite the broken leg, and then if all went well, open the gate next spring and set her free. She could hang around the sanctuary for food if she pleased or wander off in her own direction.
I made sure to be there for her transfer into the 1-acre pen. It has a forest canopy of larch, lodgepole pine, and spruce, as well as a healthy understory of huckleberry bushes and ninebark. When Luna was released, she immediately ran off and disappeared into the bushes. Kelsey, one of Snowdon’s incredible interns, decided that Luna should have her favorite toy, a pink stuffed bunny. She ran and retrieved the bunny from Luna’s old cage and brought it to the new habitat. We all called for Luna. I don’t think any of us expected to see her. But amazingly, Luna appeared from the bushes and went straight to her pink bunny toy, which was lying in some long grass that had flattened out into a soft bed during the fall weather. She latched onto the bunny and rolled onto her back in that grass. Now, if you can just picture what a face of pure contentment might look like on a fox, Luna had it. It was the very first time I saw her relax and smile! She lolled around in the grass and looked at us with an expression that spoke of gratitude. We had never realized that the entire time she spent at our sanctuary, not to mention her long stint at the vet clinic, she was without grass. She had only known cold, hard steel, concrete, or gravel floors. What a huge oversight on our part! That day, Luna’s actions imprinted on us that we humans need to do better at providing rehabilitating animals a more natural environment. Without it, they may never thrive.
I think everyone expected to spend many more hours with Luna in her new habitat now that she was relaxed. I really wanted to see her begin to thrive. But Luna had her own plans. It wasn’t more than a few days later that the interns discovered Luna was gone. A quick inspection revealed that she had found the one spot in the enclosure that was vulnerable to digging under the fence. The vast majority of the enclosure has chain link fencing buried at the base of the vertical fencing to prevent digging. Except for that one tiny spot, literally no more than 5 inches wide… Luna had released herself! She deftly dug a small hole and slipped out. We all hoped beyond hope that we’d see her again, coming back for a visit or for food. It would be so great to know she was doing well on her own. But Luna needed to leave our presence to fully heal. She was never seen again. With her special skills and wild spirit, we can have no doubt she is living the good life.