You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, May 28, 2011 : 5:54 a.m.

Ann Arbor resident fears for pets' safety as foxes take up residence in her front yard

By Tom Perkins


Cathy Bolton's bichon sniffs around the edge of a fox hole in Bolton's front yard.

Tom Perkins | For

In early May, Ann Arbor resident Cathy Bolton noticed new neighbors moved in. Peeking out of what was once a groundhog hole in her front yard was a baby fox.

Bolton’s human neighbors described the foxes choosing her yard as “spiritual,” but like another Ann Arbor resident who recently spotted coyotes near her home, she says she can do without wild neighbors.

Bolton lives near Jackson Road and I-94 and now finds fox excrement all over her property. Worse, she suspects her young cat that has been missing for a week might have become “a tasty appetizer.”

“They are cute, and I never, ever had seen one before around here, but it’s not something that’s special or spiritual. It’s that intersection between humans and animals,” she said.

But Pat DeLong, director of Ann Arbor’s Friends of Wildlife and the group’s fox expert, said foxes are mostly harmless and likely didn’t dine on Bolton’s cat. Foxes go for small rodents such as mice or moles, or even easier prey like beetles or fruits.

DeLong said if the cat was eaten, then the culprit was more likely a coyote or neighborhood dog.

“Foxes do not eat cats,” she said. “A fox, even though he looks large, he looks large because of fluffy fur. Ten to 12 pounds is about max for them. They are very curious and they’ll stop and watch a neighborhood cat or pet, but they won’t interact.”

DeLong said no numbers are available on how many foxes live in Ann Arbor or Washtenaw County because no studies or counts have been performed, but she said the animal is rare.

In recent years, there has been a slight uptick in the number of fox sightings, DeLong said, and she attributed that to two issues. First, more subdivisions are being built in once-rural areas. Second, the fox has a natural enemy in coyotes, who are known to feed on their young, called kits.

“Foxes are eaten by coyotes, and fox kits have no defense,” DeLong said. “Coyotes hunt in a group; they’re a pack animal, so they can take down a deer or larger animal.”

Foxes are known to take over a groundhog or woodchuck’s hole, as is the case on Bolton’s property. DeLong said the foxes usually inhabit the hole while the female fox, called a vixen, gives birth.

Once the vixen gives birth, the foxes could stay for up to several months while their young are cared for and trained to hunt. Since kits can’t control their body temperature as newborns, the mother stays with them while the father retrieves food and hunts for the family, DeLong said.

Bolton said her large tomcat has started coming in at night, and she always sticks by her 25-pound bichon while letting it out. Her daughter has put up posters for their missing cat around the neighborhood, but no one has reported seeing it.

“I’m torn,” Bolton said. “I realize that this is their habitat and I like it that they kill rodents and we have skunks, but they’re dangerous to the other animals.”

Since foxes don’t like loud noises, DeLong suggested vigorously shaking a large, plastic garbage bag when foxes are in sight.

“I just think an important thing for people to remember is that we have to share the world with animals — fox or rabbits or whatever — and there are many ways to detour them from property if you don’t want them, and to do it gently,” she said.



Tue, May 31, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

Foxes can be dangerous to dogs. They do carry mange, which are parasitic mites. Dogs don't have to come in contact with the foxes themselves - they only need to come in contact with fox feces and they can become infected. And our experience is that local veterinarians don't see enough mange to properly diagnose and treat it. If you have a dog and there are foxes in your area and your dog develops a skin condition, go to your vet and let them know that your dog may have been in contact with a fox. They can test for it and there is a treatment. Our experience was that our dog had it but it was misdiagnosed and she was given a treatment that actually made it worse and she nearly died because if it.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 3:22 a.m.

Outdoor cats are at risk, period, not to mention damaging to wildlife. It's amazing that people can be outsmarted by a cat that wants to get outside - I never had a cat that couldn't be trained to keep away from the door after about a day's worth of training using a squirt gun.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 8:17 a.m.

A squirt gun is a toy to this Siamese. He loves the rain, snow, watches lightning storms from a deck! You never had one like this guy.

Lynn Liston

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 2:22 a.m.

I'm happy to hear that Ms. Bolton's kitty showed up! I live in the same vicinity and we have coyotes and predatory animals and birds out here in the Township. And I have enjoyed seeing a fox or two on a rural road nearby. I have two cats who live indoors partly to protect the many songbirds who come to our feeders, but also to protect the cats from predators and possible contagious diseases carried by the unfortunate number of feral cats in our area. I would love for my cats to have the freedom of the woods behind us, but knowing the many dangers they could face from cars, poisons, predators, disease and injury, I say better safe than sorry- keep your cats indoors, your dog leashed or supervised and perhaps there will be a way found to live peaceably with your fox family until the kits are ready to leave home this time. I see there are some good suggestions here to make your yard less attractive to them in the future.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 12:29 a.m.

Easier said than done with some cats getting out and becoming outdoor cats. We had a male Siamese for over 13 years that never left the house except for vet appts. He died of natural causes and I went right out to the Humane Society and picked out a real nice used 8 mo. old male Siamese. To get him time outdoors he was walked on a leash for a half hour or so every day. After 2 years started dashing out and would stay out until he jolly well felt like coming in. We don't want him outdoors however there is no way to keep him in. Sure we could get rid of him, have him put down, or lots of options but we decided to keep him and he's just the way his internal instints tell him to be. Just saying you can't always alter the nature of an animal.

John B.

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 9:29 p.m.



Sat, May 28, 2011 : 9:54 p.m.

This lady is fortunate. Where I grew up, I had to hike a mile back into the fields to see fox dens. Never saw an actual fox in the wild. Here in Ann Arbor, they sometimes trot past our back yard, likely heading back into County Farm Park. In general, canids are our best friends -- leave 'em alone and enjoy 'em.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 10:16 p.m.

I remember seeing a fox den in the wild when I was growing up. About a year later they built Fairlane Mall on that very spot. I don't know how many fox were displaced for my condo.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 9 p.m.

That is one whopper of a Bichon. (I know, I used to have one.) I don't think there's any worry about it with the foxes. Perhaps the opposite!


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 10:14 p.m.

Tom, A bichon typically weighs 10-20 pounds. The article says this bichon weighs 25 lbs.

tom swift jr.

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 9:57 p.m.

That's a bit of a distortion because of the perspective, that dog is nearly at the end of the leash and probably 5 or 6 feet closer to the camera. Like when a Fisherman takes a picture of a fish, he holds it forward at arms length. Those guys can never be trusted with a fish story, even with pictures.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 8:15 p.m.

If you desire to keep skunks, fox, coyotes, raccoons, and other wild animals from living in your yard. Keep the grass well mowed and the brush down. Wild animals want cover to move around in. For woodchucks - make sure the ends of any culvert are screened over with heavy mesh wire with holes less than 2 inches square. Chicken wire is no challenge to them. Keep foundations of outbuildings clear and if you have a deck, heavy wire mesh buried at least 12 inches deep before putting lattice or other pleasing facing on the edges will keep woodchucks and others from using the deck as cover for a den. It is far better to discourage them if you do not want them around than to have to pay to have them removed.

tom swift jr.

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 8:03 p.m.

Good lord, folks, get a perspective on this. Don't get me wrong, I've got four cats and a dog (a dog which, according to all accounts is a predator of small mammals and should be eating these lazy cats), but this whole "poor cats" whining is pitiful! Complaining about the cat you let go outside being eaten by a fox (or a coyote for that matter) is absurd. We have no right to think we should or can eradicate predatory animals from our environment, and we send food out for them every time we let little "Buttons" or "Fluffy Kitty" out to kill birds, eat mice and poop in our gardens and on our lawn. If we took that line of thinking to the end of the continuum we would be killing all the bees 'cuz we might be stung, killing off the snakes because they might bite little Sally, doing away with the cranes and herons because they might eat the goldfish in our garden ponds... sheesh... get a clue folks, we don't inhabit this earth by ourselves (although, you all might have your wish come true eventually if people continue to think like this!)

Ann English

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 10:43 p.m.

You're the only poster who mentions cats eating mice outdoors, like foxes do. The others give the impression that cats should only kill mice indoors, that foxes might do a better job than cats killing them outdoors.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 6:32 p.m.

I call boloney on Pat DeLong's statement that foxes won't kill cats. I have personally witnessed two foxes stalking my mother's outside cat, which disappeared two days later. No coyotes where my mom lives, either. Foxes are omnivores and if they have kits to feed they WILL kill small mammals, including cats. I love foxes, but let's get real here.

Chase Ingersoll

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 6:01 p.m.

Get a Hound Dog.

Ann English

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 10:53 p.m.

If it would help Cathy to get a hound, perhaps Walt Disney was wrong about foxes and hounds getting along ("The Fox and the Hound" were friends).


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 5:46 p.m.

Shucks, Cathy. I was rooting for the fox. Nothing personal. I just don't like cats.

Jim Kress

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 5:42 p.m.

Coyote are just oversized rats. They have become vastly overpopulated, have spread into the urban areas, and are a blight on the land. They should be exterminated on sight. Foxes, however, are beautiful animals who are skillful predators and are not destructive to their habitat. Unfortunately, their numbers have been woefully reduced due to poaching and mindless killing by humans. The Foxes should be cherished for the value they add to your property. We have at least one mated couple on our property and they are a joy to watch. There are few things more breathtaking than seeing a Red Fox come trotting out of the woods and through your habitat, especially on a bright, sunny day in freshly fallen snow.

John B.

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 9:25 p.m.

Hi Jim: See, here's the deal: there is this little thing called 'the balance of nature.' Oh, never mind, I give up. Let's just hunt as many species to extinction as we like. Probably no long-term consequences to doing that, right? (sarcasm off).

Cathy Bolton

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

PS. As I walked my dog (on a leash) late last night, who should come sauntering out of the woods but the presumed dead kitty! I take back all the maligning comments about my foxy neighbors. Little Susie will no longer be allowed outside. Mea culpa. Cathy Bolton

Mike D.

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

Cathy, glad to hear you and your cat are well!


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 3:24 a.m.

Great news Cathy! Thank you so much for the followup.

tom swift jr.

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

Thanks for the follow up!


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 6:15 p.m.

Hi Cathy, I met you as I was checking out at Petco earlier this week and I remember you telling me about how the foxes got your kitty. I'm so happy you found her! :)


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 4:33 p.m.

It is thrilling to see a wild fox and, re danger to pets, cats should not be outside in any case . They kill birds and are themselves at risk ( more from cars , dogs and coyotes than foxes). But foxes can be afflicted with horribly disfiguring was the case last year with one of our neighborhood foxes whose photo was posted in"A2 .com "as a "chupacabra" ( the myhical "goat sucking" monster of latin america).


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

ann arbor is funny. they have a dog law that say must be on a leash. they also say pick up the waste. nothing about cats running and dumping waste in your bush or mulch. i think cats should be kept inside. my grandkids play in the mulch and i see my neighbor cats out all the time at night. we should have a LAW SAYS KEEP THEM INSIDE OR LEASH THEM.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

Great irony in this story. She is upset her cat may have become "a tasty appetizer" for the fox. At least the fox - if it really did kill the cat - which doubtful, killed it to eat it. The cat, presumably gets fed at home, and hunts and kills everything smaller than it that moves or flies for sport and fun. Perhaps, something needs to be done about these wild animals living so close to people and killing their pets, so that their pets can roam free and kill without the threat of a predator killing them.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 12:47 a.m.

I saw an invisible ";)" at the end of Lola's comment's first sentence.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

Oh, right. Because everyone knows foxes are protectors of the other wild animals, and will avenge them. Seriously? Did you learn nature from a manga?


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

IF the fox killed the cat (again, doubtful) it was just doing it to avenge the mice and birds. "I just think an important thing for people to remember is that we have to share the world with animals — fox or rabbits or whatever — and there are many ways to detour them from property if you don't want them, and to do it gently," she said. ^True. Deal with it people!

Michigan Man

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

I am from Ann Arbor but now live in Downers Grove, Illinois. Foxes do and will attach cats. A few years ago we had a vixen deliver babies in our backyard - very much a normal, regular suburban community backyard, not in the country at all. One afternoon while out raking I needed to take immediate action to interdict the fox attacking our fully grown male cat in the backyard. I was able to position myself, with my rake as a weapon, to drive off the attacking fox. This happened in the middle of the afternoon and the fox attack seemed unprovoked. Our cat was quite fortunate that I happened to be close by and was able to help.

Wolf's Bane

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.

My cat is very attached to foxes. :)


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

It seems likely to me that the fox was defending its offspring from a potential predator, not trying to kill your cat for food.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

We love our cat and dog, but our neighbor's outdoor cat kills dozens of the birds that flock to our bird feeders. The cat then leaves piles of bones, feathers, and feet in our yard, garage, and porch. All cats belong indoors and dogs belong in fenced yards or on leashes. You should enjoy seeing the beautiful foxes that won't hurt full grown pets, but you'd better keep an eye out for coyotes.

Christy Summerfield

Mon, May 30, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.

I too hate that my neighbors' cats kill my birds, plus they crap in my garden and in my flower boxes. I love cats and always have at least one. My understanding is that it's illegal in Ann Arbor for cats to run around loose.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

I saw a fox two days ago north of W. Liberty Rd between Maple and Wagner. It had come out of, then went back into, a wooded area. Its fur was quite pretty, actually.


Sun, May 29, 2011 : 12:44 a.m.

Actually, my sighting was ESE of Dolph Park; east of the dead-end road you mentioned.

Ann English

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 10:50 p.m.

Sounds like an area just north of Dolph Park, on the north side of that body of water, around that dead-end road off Liberty.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Keep your cats inside and your dogs on a leash. Everyone wants humans to get back to nature and now they complain about it when it happens.

Wolf's Bane

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 1:49 p.m.

You're telling me that id I spray someone's dog with pepper spray that I perceive as a threat to me, that is legal?


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

That's what pepper spray is for.

Wolf's Bane

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

Couldn't agree more. Nothing worse than walking through bird hill nature area and being chased by a big dog not on lead.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 1:16 p.m.

Fox Do not kill to kill but kill to eat. We live out in the country and have chickens, lots of cats, dogs and cats. We have lost chickens, but mostly during the really dry summer we had several years ago. I have a terrible (quality) video of my chickens out with a fox earlier this spring all digging through some old hay looking for something to eat. My hens were following the fox, because she was digging up the hay and exposing worms for them to eat. The horses were watching, the donkey too. I admit I was taken by surprise and thought I'd witness a chicken kidnapping again but nope- strange but, foxes are not mean. Curious, clever, and downright beautiful! Raccoon and 'possum- that's another story- they are awful when they kill. They maim and while I have no way to prove anything do seem kill and leave remains. Foxes won't do that - they take what they kill back back to the den.

Ann English

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

You make it sound like the idea behind, "the fox guarding the henhouse" is false. Sounds like foxes and hens can be friends.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 9:58 p.m.

Reminds me of photos I saw at a B and B in Colorado. The owner had llamas, and a black bear and her cub wandered through. In the pictures we saw, the female llama was 15 feet or so from the bears, with her ears forward -- "I SEE you there, bear!" The bears looked embarassed (no pun intended,) like somebody who'd wandered into the wrong wedding. The owner said they cleared out quickly. "Oh, don't mind us. We're just, um, passing through."

Wolf's Bane

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 12:38 p.m.

Foxes have every right to take up residence and folks who disturb wildlife are breaking the law; both Federal and State mandates. I suggest, two course of actions, keep your cat indoors and keep your white doggy on a leash. We have to remember, they were here first and that's just the way it goes. On a side note, we are over run with cottontails in my A2 neighborhood, if you want to relocate the foxes (go through the proper channels), I'd be happy to 'adopt' them in my yard.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 12:03 p.m.

I know a fox ate one of my cats, we found cat fur in the hollow tree the fox had bedded down in. So, yes, foxes do eat cats.

John B.

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 9:14 p.m.

I would guess that it is much more likely that an an owl got your cat.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 1:08 p.m.

Sorry about your cat, but it was no fox that ate it, The fox (or coon) might have found it dead and that's what the fur was about. The simple fact is, a fox will not eat a cat, kitten yes, cat no.


Sat, May 28, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

We had a fox in the neighborhood for a while last year, and there was definately a downtick in the rabbits and squirrels in the neighborhood. The fox bothered no one, and actually one day when walking by dog,it followed us down the street, running behind the house and peeking though the yards, curious about our dog, which is a large dog. Neighborhood cats survived, as well as the little dogs.

tom swift jr.

Sat, May 28, 2011 : 10:22 a.m.

Pat Delong said it all. Cathy's best course of action is to enjoy watching the foxes. They are delightful neighbors, will cut back on the mice in her yard, and are fun to watch if she is lucky enough to see much of them. As for the kitty that's missing... that's the natural fate of outdoor cats, their life span is limited. I hope a lesson is learned and the tomcat is kept inside.

John B.

Sun, May 29, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

...and the cat has now returned, unharmed....