Arctic fox found in Soddy-Daisy shows why keeping wildlife as pets can be a problem |  Chattanooga Times Free Press

Arctic fox found in Soddy-Daisy shows why keeping wildlife as pets can be a problem | Chattanooga Times Free Press

A Chattanooga wildlife rescue organization received a call last week from a Soddy-Daisy woman who discovered what she believed to be a silver fox pawing at her back door, trying to get inside.

“Obviously that’s not a normal thing for a fox,” said Juniper Russo, executive director of the group, known as For Fox Sake.

Russo said the animal – a non-native arctic fox – was likely obtained by someone in the area as a pet.

The fox, which rehabilitators named Cooper, did not have a microchip, so Russo posted photos of the fox on social media to see if she could find its legal owner.

The message eventually reached Cooper’s most recent owner, who said the fox was acquired from a friend who neglected the animal.

Cooper’s temporary caretaker had built a pen from chicken wire to use as a short-term home for the fox, which escaped and headed to the neighbor’s yard, who contacted For Fox Sake.

The temporary caretaker agreed with Russo that moving Cooper to a sanctuary was in the fox’s best interests, and Russo was able to find a long-term home for Cooper at Exotic Pet Wonderland, a wildlife facility in Knoxville.

“We work pretty closely together, as we get calls about exotic pets quite often, and there’s a lot of overlap between what we both do,” Russo told Exotic Pet Wonderland by phone.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Area Wildlife Rehabilitators Help Care for Animals in Need)

Photo courtesy of Juniper Russo/Cooper, an arctic fox found outside its enclosure last week in Soddy-Daisy, has a new home at Exotic Pet Wonderland in Knoxville, Tenn.

Any wildlife bred in captivity — even if native to the area — cannot legally be rehabilitated and released into the wild in Tennessee, so Russo often turns to Exotic Pet Wonderland when looking for long-term homes for bred wildlife. in captivity, she said.

It is not uncommon for people who purchase a fox as a pet to later decide that they are unable to care for the animal. sanctuary in 2019.

“The need was too great to do it as an individual,” said Hembree, who now has more than 30 foxes living in the sanctuary. “There are more and more people buying these animals every year, and most of the time they don’t know what they are doing with them. Every year there are more and more who are surrendering.”

Russo said For Fox Sake also gets about 30 calls a year from people who “kidnapped” wild baby foxes to keep as pets before realizing the foxes are harder to care for than they thought.

Animals that have not been bred in captivity can continue to live at For Fox Sake and serve as training animals, be placed in a zoo, or be rehabilitated and released into the wild if they are still very young, a she declared.

Most of the foxes at Exotic Pet Wonderland are arctic foxes, which Hembree says are legal to own in Tennessee without a permit. She said native species, including red and gray foxes, require a permit and the permit is easy to obtain.

She said she is working with officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to find ways to reduce the growing number of pet foxes that need new homes once their owners realize they lack the necessary resources. to take care of them.

“We have always said that almost all foxes that people buy in the spring, that is, when they are born, will not see the following spring with their owner,” Hembree said, adding that the average age of the foxes that come to live at the sanctuary after being returned by their owners is 212 days. “It’s a huge, growing problem for an animal that’s a lot harder to care for than just a dog or a cat, or even a little exotic. There’s a lot that goes into their care.”

Russo said what overwhelms most fox owners is the smell of the animals.

“Arctic foxes and red foxes stink in the sky, and there’s no way to get them down,” she said.

Foxes have glands that produce a strong musky odor, Russo said, and their urine also smells very musky.

“When kept indoors, they tend to mark just about anything they think belongs to them, including their owner’s bed and carpeting,” she said.

Foxes can become more aggressive when they hit puberty and are often not as cuddly as their owners would like, Russo said.

“It’s not their fault,” she said. “It’s just that it’s a wild animal that’s not really equipped to live in a human home and be treated like a cat or a dog.”

For Fox Sake and Exotic Pet Wonderland are non-profit organizations. For more information, visit or

Contact Emily Crisman at or 423-757-6508.

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