When the Shoplands took to Marsh Lake for an Easter weekend family get-together, they didn’t expect to leave with a newborn puppy in tow.
The adorable little guy was furry and absolutely tiny—and looked just a bit like an otter. He’d been left by the side of the lake and they couldn’t just let him be, even though the family had no idea how to take care of such a young puppy.
So they turned to Facebook to try to find a wet nurse. “We needed to get it attended to because we don’t have that capability,” Ralph Shopland told CBC. “I’m not a mommy.”
But as the puppy began to grow over the next few days, and they found a surrogate for it online, they realized it was very likely not a dog.
“I just defaulted to thinking it was a dog,” Shopland explained.
Yukon conservation officer Dave Bakica weighed in: “Then they thought it might be an otter or a marten or a wolverine, possibly.”
As it continued growing, it developed a white tip on its tail—and conservation officials became convinced it was a fox. If it was, it was likely that the mother had died, which was why it seemed abandoned.
In general, people should not touch wild animals, and any baby animals seemingly left alone are probably not.
“If you think you’ve found orphaned wildlife, in most cases mother is very close by and just waiting for you to leave,” Bakica said.
A month later, the pup was grown big enough for the officials to confirm: It really was a fox.
“Once his ears stood up and his face changed and the smell became really obvious,” said Maria Hallock, the wildlife curator at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
The fox was taken in to the wildlife preserve, but staff decided to minimize the time they spent with him so as to not get him too used to humans. The goal was to get him re-acclimated to the wild—and if it wasn’t possible, maybe they could find another facility where he could be with at least another fox.
Over the next few months, it would be debated whether the young fox would have to be sent from Yukon to Ontario—but then the Yukon Wildlife Preserve was able to raise nearly $10,000 to keep the fox (a red fox) in an enclosure.
People rallied to raise the money, and the preserve was delighted to be able to give people a chance to learn more about the animal.
“He’s a national star,” Greg Meredith, executive director of the preserve, told CBC. “It just captured everyone’s attention. People in the Yukon, we’re used to seeing lots of red foxes running around our neighborhoods. But you don’t really get a chance to slow down and study them a little bit.”