Emotional Journey of a Fox

Brown fox with a luxuriant coat

When Sage first arrived at Earthfire in a cage he was in terror, having been through a roller coaster life of interactions with humans. We don’t know many details other than that he was purchased as a pet, abandoned, and had been left in an empty cabin where someone threw in food periodically. He was scheduled to be captured and euthanized. A kind woman who knew of the situation rescued him the night before he was to be killed and called to ask if we could give him a home. We could.

Since Sage’s arrival at Earthfire almost three years ago, he has cowered behind his den box in his enclosure when people come by. He would come out to get food only after they had left. We saw a glimmering of change when a troubled teenager came to visit with his mother. His mother brought him because he had such a love of wolves, but completely unexpectedly, it was Sage who captured his attention. We often find this. People may come with their own ideas of what animals they are interested in but then something entirely unexpected happens. There is no predicting who will be attracted to whom and what connections will be made.

His mother wrote what happened:

“My son saw Sage hiding behind his den and thought ‘poor little guy’ so he knelt down and started looking into his eyes and was thinking ‘come on, it’s ok.”

Slowly Sage began to come forward but at one point my son said his mind wandered off somewhere, and when that happened Sage retreated. So my son refocused this thought and this time Sage responded a little quicker, and came up to where he was. And they remained looking into each other’s eyes. Before my son left Sage, he put his hands up to the pen and Sage touched each one of his hands with his nose. This little fox won my son’s heart; he seems to have made a deep connection with Sage. Later he told me he thinks he wants to start a healthier lifestyle. I feel in my heart he is the reason why I found you and why we needed to come to Earthfire.”

A few times since then, during our retreats, someone would be drawn toward Sage’s enclosure, magnetized by something they could not express, and he would slowly come out to meet them. But nothing much changed in his regular behavior.


A couple of months ago, Sage wasn’t looking well. He had suddenly developed swelling and discharges all around his face and sores on his nose. We were distressed not only because he wasn’t well, but because we thought we would have to re-traumatize him by having the vet examine him. The vet drove in, came over; took a brief look and said, “He has lupus.” We asked if she need to examine him. She said no – she recognizes it from dogs. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that strikes mysteriously, as most autoimmune disease do. In fact my nephew has it too. There is no cure, but it can be managed with a lifetime of medication.

We started Sage on a course of prednisone, a steroid, two times a day. If he responds well, we can wean him to a milder drug once the symptoms ease. So twice a day, I go visit Sage with his pill in a meatball. To my surprise, I realized he was approaching me ever more readily; eagerly even. He began to take the food gingerly out of my hand. It’s not as if I hadn’t brought him treats before – a fresh egg still warm from the hen who laid it, or a piece of ripe peach – but his reaction was always the same, not touching it until I left; looking at it and me with suspicion. So the change was not because of the food I was bringing him.


The thought occurred to me – does he realize, on some level, that we are trying to help him? Or does he associate the medication with relief? In any case he has become sweeter and warmer with all humans. A bit less afraid. Definitely more interested.

This raises so many questions. When Sage first came, he was clearly terrified. Was he also hurt and angry, having bonded to a human who abandoned him? Another word we could use to describe him during the years here is “haunted.” People who were drawn to him also used the word “wise.” There is something deep in his eyes. Amanda, who works here and has always been fascinated by him, feels he is very smart, and very mad. That seems to happen sometimes – a particularly intelligent animal will react to betrayal with a quiet rage.

We hope this will be a turning point for Sage. Life will be much easier and richer for him if he can be at ease with humans. We will see what happens as time and events unfold. But he reminds us of a truth we experience over and over as our lives and the animals’ lives intertwined. These are not just “animals” or “a fox.” There are mysterious depths and capacities in every creature, waiting to be expressed when the circumstances are right. Interacting with them is a journey of constant wonderment.

by Susan Eirich, Ph.D.

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