A fox's secret weapon: devastating good looks

I cannot help but admire the courage and bright-eyed intelligence of wild foxes
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The Independent Online

Now that the fox-hunting Bill has disappeared into a parliamentary thicket - on Thursday it went to a standing committee for yet more amendments and the chances of it reaching the House of Lords before the summer recess are pretty much zilch - I might as well add my tuppence-worth to the great debate on animal cruelty.

Somewhere at the bottom of a drawer I have a letter from the Be Kind To Shellfish lobby taking me to task about a casual reference I once made to a seafood kebab. Compared to what those skewered prawns went through, they inferred, Vlad The Impaler's victims had a picnic.

Of course I think fox-hunting is cruel. I defy anyone who has read Tarka the Otter to support any sort of hunting that involves hounds who have to be the most blood-thirsty animals this side of sabre-tooth tigers. But like Nancy Mitford's heroine Linda in The Pursuit of Love, who wept when flies were squashed or mice were caught in traps, but loved nothing better than the exhilaration of a whole day's hunting, I can understand why the hunting faction is so loath to give up the chase.

It is the dressing up and the language and the tradition and the surging forward shoulder-to-shoulder against a common enemy and above all the boots that people who hunt love. So for heaven's sake why don't they join the army where they would get all of that and leave the foxes to be put down humanely by the RSPCA?

I've nothing personal against foxes though I do remember when my parents had a farm we would find chickens with their legs torn off in nesting boxes, those being the only bits that the prowling fox underneath their perches could reach. But then I've also read Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox to my children at bedtime and like him cannot help but admire the courage, intelligence, independence and especially the devastating good looks of wild foxes with their bright eyes and thick Titian-coloured brushes.

Please note the word "wild". A friend who lives within swearing distance of the centre court at Wimbledon tells me that a pair of foxes have taken up permanent residence in a communal garden in one of London's most exclusive residential areas. Mr Todd has made his earth in a gully behind the communal garden shed and last month Mrs Todd proudly introduced her litter to the residents, putting the cubs through their paces beside the newly-planted herbaceous beds.

That was when my friend Gabriela noticed that far from being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, all the Mere Close foxes were looking distinctly mangy. Being a caring compassionate animal-lover even though she's Polish, Gabriela rang the RSPCA who said that normally they would remove the foxes but unfortunately they had run out of cages so she had better ring her local Fox Project. She did and was advised with some severity to deal with the problem herself which meant giving them a dose of canine arsenicum sulphate. They gave her the name of a chemist. It turned out to be a homoeopathic chemist, the medicine cost £6.80 and the friendly homoeopath advised her to administer it daily in the form of honey sandwiches containing three to four drops each of the medication.

The problem is the foxes won't eat the sandwiches. "Was it organic honey, low-fat butter and wholemeal bread?" I asked Gabriela. Of course, she said, she lives in Wimbledon. That's the problem, I said. Urban foxes are used to scavenging in dustbins. They don't want honey sandwiches, they want the leftovers of pizzas and Happy Meals and Chinese takeaways.

The urban fox population has quadrupled in the past two years, which leaves me wondering uneasily whether hunting, if it survives, will be forced to relocate from the Quantocks and the Cotswolds to Fulham and St John's Wood. My mother has a set of tablemats bought at least 50 years ago from the John Lewis Partnership depicting scenes of chaps in hunting pink galloping across fields, flying over brushwood fences and crossing stirrup cup outside picturesque inns with oak beams. Now they'll be able to reissue the set showing the same riders galloping along Oxford Street past the windows of the department store, the huntsmen leaping fearlessly across taxis and traffic islands until tally-hoing triumphantly they corner the poor old fox behind the emergency exit of Dickens & Jones. What an undignified exit, what a wretched way to go. Reynard deserves better. Let's spike those sandwiches quick.

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