All winter long, a game has been played between our Chesapeake Bay retriever, Gage, and a red fox. The rules aren’t too complex . . . for the fox. It boldly marks within feet of our cabin, prances across the snow as if walking on water, and then daintily perches itself on a nearby boulder. Gage’s turn. She snaps awake, nose twitching, barks her deep-chested warning and whines to be let out (hence, our crazy-high heating bill). With fur raised and huge attitude, Gage dashes out and races around the cabin, only to get distracted after smelling the fox’s challenge. She spends a ridiculously long time sniffing, vacuuming up every last scent molecule, and proudly struts through the door, confident that she’s protected her humans against certain death. Never once has Gage noticed the fox. Thirty feet away. Snickering. And then the fox lifts its leg again.
Since sneering at perceived lesser being’s ineptitude is more a cat’s behavior, I wondered if a fox is technically a cat or a dog. Here’s the answer: fox are part of the Canidae family that includes wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes and domestic dogs. Canidae (Canines) are divided into two tribes: those related to wolves (Canini) and those related to foxes (Vulpini). So, scientifically speaking, they’re dogs. Except . . .
- Foxes have vertical pupils that allow them to see in dim light, like cats, rather than rounded pupils like other canines. (If they had “puppy dog eyes,” I might be breaking the cardinal rule of not feeding wildlife).
- Foxes walk on their toes, like cats. And—get this—many fox species haveretractable claws that allow them to climb. Some even sleep in trees. BTW, fox are nocturnal creatures, as are cats (dogs, on the other hand, sleep, like, always).
- Similar to cats, foxes have sensitive whiskers and spines on their tongue. Foxes also have whiskers on their legs, which they use to help find their way. (Ladies, remember this explanation when you don’t feel like shaving).
- Foxes are not pack animals, except when raising their young. They also prefer to sleep alone. (How many battles have you won for bed/couch space with your pup?)
- Foxes hunt in a similar manner to cats by stalking and pouncing on their prey. They also play with their prey before eating it. (The dogs I know aren’t exactly patient when it comes to anything resembling food.)
- No one would ever confuse a dog’s bark with a fox’s sharp, high-pitched shrieking/ screaming noise that’s on par with a cat in heat. It makes your skin crawl (as compared to how you feel when your neighbor’s dog is incessantly barking).
- Baby foxes are called pups, kits or cubs. Male foxes are known as dogs, tods or reynards. Female foxes are vixens (not going there). A group offoxes is a skulk, leash or earth. (There may be a reason why they can’t agree on one name. Can we say “cat-dog”?)
- Super nerdy factoid: fox harness the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Other animals such as birds, sharks and turtles have this “magnetic sense,” but foxes are the first known to use it to catch prey.
Foxes are unique creatures unto themselves. Gage doesn’t have a chance.
Originally published in The Boardwalk newspaper, Grand Lake, Colorado.