Fredi Fox talked with his mom one day about why their family didn't live in a shelter like his friend Carrie Collie did. Jealous of Carrie’s easy life, his complaints went on and on.
“She doesn't have to worry about getting wet from rain, or cold from snow. She doesn't have to scratch and search for food all the time, or watch out for coyotes or wolves. Why can't we live like she does?"
“Well, son, it sure appears like Carrie has an easy life. But, how would you like to wear a collar around your neck; or stay inside a shelter all the time; or only play inside a fence? That doesn't seem like the best life."
Fredi thought Carrie had everything. Who care’s if you have to wear a collar, that doesn’t hurt anything. Getting out of the rain and snow was better than digging burrows or living in other’s burrows. Besides burrows didn’t always keep you warm or dry. And playing inside a fence was a lot better protection from predators. He watched the humans bring Carrie her dinner every day. She ate, relaxed while they combed her fur and the children played with her. What a life.
One day he saw the Collie romping in the back yard and called her to the corner of the fence.
"Is that you, Fredi?" Carrie ran to Fredi and they greeted each other, nuzzled noses and licked each other.
"Yes. Hi, Carrie. I've been wondering, do you like living with those humans in that shelter?"
"Why, yes, Fredi. They're very kind to me. Why wouldn't I like living with them? They feed me wonderful food, play with me and take care of me. All I have to do is play with them. I like that. Would you like to live with me?"
"Oh, I sure would. It's hard out here fighting for everything, food, a place to live, shelter from the weather. It's work all the time, and we have to watch-out for predators constantly. We never get to play."
"I could introduce you to my pack. They’re very kind. I don't think they’d chase you away. Come back tomorrow and I'll bring the children with me. We'll have loads of fun."
"Okay, I will. You could show me what your shelter is like."
Fredi returned to his den with a spring in his step. He was excited to meet Carrie's family and learn what it was like living inside a shelter. He wasn't sure his mom would approve, so he thought he’d wait until just the right moment to tell her. This was going to be his adventure and he felt proud to be doing something on his own for a change. Following mother around was getting boring.
He could hardly sleep that night, woke several times, shuffled around in circles, smoothed out his sleep-spot and plopped back down. His thoughts drifted into dreams of great times he’d have with Carrie.
Fredi's Mom nudged him out of his reverie. "C'mon, Fredi. It's time to find food. What's the matter with you?"
Fredi woke in a fog. He stretched his legs and gaped his jaw with a long yawn.
"Gee, is it morning already? I hope we don't have to go far for food. Isn't there anything left from the other day?"
"No, dear, that's gone. We need to find fresh food. Come along. Let's get going before our prey wakes."
Fredi trotted several feet behind his mom. He knew not to follow her too closely through the snow. She wouldn't be able to surprise prey. Besides, he was still groggy and not bothering to sniff for prey himself. The young fox was more interested in meeting Carrie than in learning hunting techniques. His mom silently disappeared behind a large mound of freshly fallen snow.
Fredi lifted his head and discovered everything was quiet. He sniffed but couldn’t find his mother's scent. He stopped and peered to the right, then left. No movement, still no sound. A long, deep sniff filled his nostrils with wolf scent. He hunkered down and tried to pinpoint its direction. Crackling snow behind an outcropping of rocks snapped his head and ears to focus. His heart pounded so loudly he thought the wolf could hear him. Frozen in place, he thought, this is too close.
Continuous sniffing verified the wolf was moving away, but what was moving in the hard-packed snow? A short yip identified his mom and her head popped around the rocks. In her mouth was a rabbit, plenty of food for this day.
"Mom, did you smell that wolf?"
"Yes, dear. I had to stop and wait for him to pass. I guess he wasn't hungry this morning. He came awfully close."
Fredi's mom dropped the rabbit in front of him. They ate, then returned to the safety of their den. Now was the time.
"Mom, I'm going to go play with Carrie, okay?"
"Yes, son. But remember. Be very careful. Carrie is a nice dog, but she lives with humans and you must be careful not to show yourself to them. They don't like foxes."
"I will, I will, bye."
Fredi darted off like a bullet. His excitement dispelled any earlier worries about wolves on the prowl. He was finally going to see what a “good life” was all about.
Carrie chased after the children while they threw snowballs at each other. As soon as she heard Fredi's yip she ran toward the corner of the fence. The children followed, laughing and skipping, until they saw Fredi. They stopped and gasped. Carrie hopped against the fence and turned her head to see both children silent and looking scared. She ran toward them, nuzzled and rubbed against them. The happy dog ran a few steps and turned again. She showed them Fredi was a friend. Fredi sat in silence and let Carrie do all the persuading. Eventually the children approached the fence.
"These are my playmates, Fredi. They're called Linda and Billy."
Fredi sat down and waited for them to come closer. Carrie ran back and forth between the children and Fredi. The dog and the fox nuzzled each other between the chain link fence.
The children seemed friendly. They smiled as each one pushed a hand through the fence and stroked Fredi's fur. Their hands felt warm and comforting to Fredi. He thought these humans aren't as awful as mom said. The children laughed, giggled and petted Carrie and Fredi.
"Aren't these humans nice, Fredi?"
"Yes, they are, Carrie. Do you think they'll let me and my mom live with you in your shelter?"
"Sure, why not. Let's see if they'll open the gate and let you in." Carrie ran toward the back gate and jumped on it. The children understood and immediately went to the gate.
The gate swung open and Carrie ran to Fredi. They greeted each other and both returned to the yard. The children left the back gate open, turned and ran after the two animals. They all chased each other around the yard, the children laughing and the two animals hopping and jumping happily.
"This is fun, Carrie. I like these humans a lot."
"Yes, they are fun to play with and I'm sure they'd take good care of you and your mom, too."
The children sat down in the snow and Fredi and Carrie ran to them. They enjoyed petting Fredi's long, soft fur and fluffy tail. Carrie sat next to them watching.
"Billy, Linda, it's time for lunch."
Fredi hunkered down at the sound of the voice. It startled him and he recalled his mom’s words, “Humans don’t like foxes.” The children got up and ran into the house. Carrie remained outside.
"It's time for the children to eat, Fredi. That's their mom calling them. She's really nice, too. Don’t be afraid. They're all very good to me."
"Does she feed everyone? Why don't you go and eat, too?"
"Yes, they all feed me. I don't eat until the end of the day and in the morning. Sometimes they bring me goodies to eat during the day."
"Do they feed you every day? You don't have to hunt for food?"
"Oh, gosh, I don't have to hunt for food."
"Wow. I'm going to tell my mom what this is like. This is better than anything we have. I want to live here with you."
"That would be great. We could play and have fun all the time."
"Okay, see ya later."
Fredi ran through the gate, excited to get back to his mom and tell her what a wonderful life she could have living in Carrie's shelter.
He was a hundred feet from the den when he picked up a strong wolf scent again. He stopped, sniffed several times and discovered the scent was old, but still coming from the direction of the den. He cautiously approached, peering to the left and right, moving in a random direction, unsure of what he'd find.
The den was vacant and silence hung in the air. The young fox didn't understand, the wolf scent lingered, he yipped for his mother. Warily approaching the entrance he whined and listened. No answer. Fredi looked at the snow and saw wolf prints.
He backed out of the den and circled the entrance, scanning the immediate area. The wolf was gone. He sat and whimpered, not knowing what to do next. He wanted to tell his mother what a good life they could have at Carrie's shelter and now he couldn't. The fox kit laid down and put his head on his paws. Perhaps she had gone hunting. Maybe the wolf had chased her into hiding somewhere. He couldn't think where she could be. He sat up and peered into the snow-covered area surrounding the den; hoping she would pop out and greet him. But, except for the brisk breezes sweeping up snow-clouds, the silence was eerie.
The evening receded into darkness. This was the first time his mom had ever left him alone, at night. Fredi curled up, deep inside the den and fell asleep.
The crisp air, laden with morning ice wafted across Fredi's nose. He blinked several times, lifted his head, sniffed hard, and scanned the den. No mom. The young kit knew this was not right. He stood and stretched, then shook the sleepiness from his body. He crept close to the den entrance and sniffed, stretching his neck to peer outside, not quite sure what might be out there waiting. Without his mom's assurance, Fredi's nerves made him edgy and cautious.
Emerging from the den, he circled its perimeter, through rocky outcroppings, along hard-packed snow-paths and among flowerless bushes scattered around snow-drifted tree trunks. Everything looked and smelled normal. But, where was his mother?
Before disappearing around a snow drift, he turned and made a final check of his den. Nothing. Trotting steadily, Fredi sniffed and looked in both directions along his path to Carrie's shelter. When he reached Carrie's yard, she was waiting for him. Her tail wagged.
"Hi, Fredi. Did you tell your mom? Are you going to live with us?"
"My mom's gone, Carrie. She didn't come home last night. I haven't seen her since yesterday afternoon."
"Oh, Fredi. That's bad. What are you going to do?"
"I caught a light scent of her behind the shelter next to yours. But, I'm afraid to go there alone. Could you come and help me see if she is over there?"
"I'll get my pack. We'll all go over there and look for her." Carrie bolted toward the house before Fredi could voice any reservations.
The children ran from the house toward the back fence. They saw Fredi pacing back and forth. The parents walked slowly, catching sight of the white fox between the children.
The woman said, "Billy, Linda, stop. That fox is a wild animal. Don't touch it."
Billy said, "It's okay, Mom. We were playing with it yesterday. We named it Snowflake. It's a baby fox. It won't hurt you."
Carrie wildly dashed from Fredi to the children, to their parents and back. She showed everyone Fredi was her friend.
"Carrie. Let's see if we can get them to follow us." Fredi took off toward the gate and Carrie followed in hot pursuit. The big Collie jumped against the gate, and barked, then looked at the children, then their parents, his tongue lolling. Fredi ran back to the end of the fence.
The man said, "It looks like they're trying to tell us to follow them. Open the gate, hon. See what Carrie does."
Fredi again ran to the gate, then back to the end of the fence. Carrie barked and jumped repeatedly against the gate. Mom opened it, and Carrie darted through it, straight toward Fredi.
Carrie said, "Okay, Fredi, show us where that scent is.”
Fredi, followed closely by Carrie and the children, disappeared behind the neighbors back yard. The parents increased their pace to catch up to the children.
Fredi sniffed the ground, then raised his head high. His path was random, moving quickly from side to side. Carrie followed the fox's scent and barked periodically to keep the humans in pursuit.
The little fox knew he was getting closer when his mom's scent increased. He heard a yip ahead.
"Mom? Mom? Is that you? Where are you?" Fredi's yelps were high pitched and urgent. His heart was pounding again. Could he have found his mom? Is she okay?"
More yelping and barking. The fox trotted in a straight line and nearly bumped into the cage when he circled a large Oak tree. There, in a small clearing, Fredi saw his mom, trapped in a cage half concealed by brush and snow. A dead rabbit hung inside, at back of the cage.
"Mom. Mom. Is that you? What are you doing in there?"
"Oh, Fredi. I got caught in this trap yesterday. I'm afraid humans will come and take me away. You must hide, get away from here."
"It's okay, Mom. Carrie's family is coming to help us. They're not mean. They'll get you free."
As soon as Carrie appeared in the clearing and saw Fredi and his mom, he turned and disappeared. He barked louder and periodically jumped.
"Fredi, is that Carrie? Are the humans coming? Run, hide, they’ll trap you, too."
"No, mom, they won’t . They're going to help you get out of here. They're nice. Carrie said we could live with them in their shelter. I was coming home to tell you that yesterday, but you were gone. You were gone all night. I was scared. These humans are good. They didn't hurt me when I played with them, yesterday."
Billy and Linda rushed through the clearing, ran to the cage, and dropped to their knees. Both of them scraped and pushed snow away from the cage. They yelled for their parents. The trapped fox hunkered down at the back of the cage, not knowing what to expect.
The man appeared in the clearing and said, "You two quiet down, now. You're scaring that fox. Settle down."
Carrie sat down next to the cage and peered at the adults. She wanted them to know the fox was not dangerous. Billy pawed at the cage, trying to figure out how to open it. His dad grabbed his arm and pulled the excited boy away.
"Billy. Get off that cage. You're making the fox nervous. Let's take the whole cage home and see if we can help the fox calm down."
Carrie said, "You and your mom can live with us, Fredi. I'm sure my family likes you. Come live with us."
"I'm not sure, Carrie. Mom says humans don't like foxes. The children seem nice enough, but I'm not sure about the grown-ups." Fredi peered into the cage and saw his mom shaking and nervous. Her slience told him she was scared.
The man untied the rabbit carcas, pulled it through a narrow opening at the back of the cage, and discarded it. He dislodged and picked up the cage containing its wide-eye occupant. The family returned to their back yard. The trapped fox peered around and saw the woman close the gate behind them. She thought this is just a bigger cage.
Billy and Linda ran back and forth, laughing and singing. Carrie and Fredi followed the man. He placed the cage in the middle of the back yard. The woman placed a small can of dog food in front of the cage. Dad instructed the children to sit quietly at the picnic table, then slowly opened the front of the cage and backed away from the frightened fox.
Fredi pushed his head inside the cage and mewled at his mom. Carrie waited a few feet away.
"C'mon, Mom. It's okay. See how nice the humans are? They don't want to hurt you. And Carrie is my best friend. She helped me find you."
"Fredi, can we be sure the humans aren’t dangerous?"
"Yes, look at them. They're standing back from you to help you understand they won't hurt you. They brought food because they know you're hungry. They're wonderful to Carrie and she says they will take care of us, too. I want to live with them. Can we?"
"I’m just not sure." Fredi's mom crept out of the cage and tried Carrie's food. It tasted good. She watched the humans carefully. They remained seated at the picnic table talking among themselves. She looked at Carrie.
Carrie said, "My family will take care of you. You won't have to hunt or work hard any more."
“I’m still not sure this is right,” said the mother fox. “It feels confining and I’m not comfortable with it.”
The humans treated their new companions very well. They named Fredi’s mom “Snowball” and accepted them into their family. Because the foxes remained outside, the man built a shelter for them that felt better than any den they had ever made.
The two white foxes enjoyed the food and comfortable den. Carrie, Snowflake and the children played, but Snowball still worried. The closed gate reduced her entire world to this back yard. It didn’t feel natural. Something was wrong and Snowball remained wary and skeptical.