A Passion for Foxes, the Wildly Misunderstood Animal
Game Changer Mikayla Raines spends her days rescuing surrendered, abandoned and abused domestic foxes bred in captivity, either as pets or at fur farms. And she spends her time educating people about how owning one of these beautiful, adorable creatures can be a tremendous challenge.
- Today’s Pet Game Changer is Mikayla Raines, founder of the SaveAFox Rescue, dedicated to improving the lives of surrendered, abandoned, and abused domestic foxes bred in captivity either as pets or at fur farms
- It was a gray fox rescued by her mother, a wildlife rehabilitator, that sparked young Mikayla’s passion for foxes
- After becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator herself, and also training as a veterinary technician, Mikayla ultimately chose to follow her dream and create SaveAFox Rescue
- These days, Mikayla spends her time working with staff, volunteers, and other rescues to give homeless captive-born foxes everything they need to live their best lives
We call them "Game Changers" — the exemplary, hardworking individuals who have gone the extra mile to promote animal welfare all around the world. Every week, we feature a special Game Changer, so if you know someone in your community who deserves this award, nominate them and help us get the word out about the magnificent work they do! Click Here to Nominate a Game Changer Today!
Today my guest is Mikayla Raines, who was nominated along with Ethan for a Game Changer award by Krista R. In 2017, Mikayla, who became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator at age 18, founded the SaveAFox Rescue located in central Minnesota. The purpose of SaveAFox is to rescue domestic foxes bred in captivity either as pets or at "fur farms" for their pelts.
SaveAFox Rescues Only Captive-Bred Animals
Foxes born in captivity can’t be released into the wild for both ethical and legal reasons; the purpose of SaveAFox is to rescue surrendered, abandoned, and abused captive-born foxes and find forever homes for them.
Mikayla explains that her passion for fox rescue started years ago, when she accompanied her mom, also a wildlife rehabilitator, on rescues. One of the animals her mother rehabbed was a gray fox.
"I just absolutely fell in love with this gray fox," says Mikayla. "That was it for me, I guess. That was a turning point, and I knew I somehow wanted foxes in my life. I didn't know at the time there was an unmet need to rescue captive bred, captive born foxes. This is not exactly where I expected to land, but foxes are my passion and I'm glad I was able to follow my dream and get to this place."
I asked Mikayla to explain more about the whole breeding foxes in captivity angle, because it’s something I don’t think a lot of people are aware of.
"Captive breeding of foxes started with fur farms, which have been around for a very long time," says Mikayla. "And then there are also breeders who sell foxes as pets. Often, people who buy foxes from breeders as pets don’t know what they’re getting into. Before long they’re like, ‘Wow, this fox is a lot of work. It’s destroying my house and it smells like a skunk.’
Those breeders have also been around for a very long time and have created foxes with weird coat colors that don't even exist in the wild. We take in foxes surrendered by both private parties and fur farms. Right now, it's about 50/50 from those sources — half come from fur farms, and half from private surrenders."
Why Fox Ownership Isn’t for Everyone
Since like every rescue, SaveAFox can only take in so many animals, Mikayla and her team collaborate with other fox rescues
"We all work together when an animal is surrendered to figure out which of our rescues is best for that particular fox," she explains. "We're licensed to adopt foxes out, but we never want to put them in the same kind of situation that got them here in the first place.
If somebody wants to adopt a fox from us, we need to train them for a certain number of hours. They need knowledge and experience. There are specific criteria people must meet to adopt a fox legally and knowledgeably."
Mikayla explains that the legalities of adoption vary from state to state, and county to county. Some locations allow pet foxes; others have restrictions. In many states, they’re only allowed in rural areas and not in cities, suburbs, or residential neighborhoods. Mikayla offers some very important advice for anyone thinking of adopting a fox.
"You never want to compare them to a dog or cat," she says. "If you expect a fox to be like a dog or cat, you’ll be very disappointed because they're not domesticated and they're very destructive. There are some foxes I allow inside my home. Because of this, we have no carpet. We have no furniture.
All our beds are Murphy beds that fold into the wall because foxes will dig through anything. They’ll also pee on anything, and they smell really bad. They're really stinky animals. If you let a fox into your house, the whole place will smell bad indefinitely.
I tell people who are interested in adopting that they need to think of a fox as more like a farm animal than a pet. They need outdoor enclosures. You shouldn’t expect to happily keep a fox in the house. Most people just can’t handle it. Foxes do things like jump up on counters and pee in coffee cups!"
How Fur Farm Foxes Differ From Pet Foxes
SaveAFox typically has about 50 animals on site who are cared for by staff and volunteers. I asked Mikayla if there are any noticeable differences in the personalities of fur farm rescues vs. pet surrenders.
She explained that generally, the temperament of pet foxes surrendered by private parties tends to be more social than fur farm foxes, who are often shy and skittish. However, the animals who were pets can also arrive with emotional or behavioral issues from having been uprooted from homes where they were loved and got lots of attention. It often takes them longer to adjust than the fur farm foxes, who are "just grateful," says Mikayla.
Thankfully, fur farms are becoming a thing of the past as their numbers steadily decline in both the U.S. and Canada. But sadly, that’s not the case with the fox pet trade, which seems to be expanding according to Mikayla. And the breeders don’t seem to care who they sell to — it’s purely a for-profit enterprise much like puppy mills.
Helping Foxes Live Their Best Lives in Captivity
I asked Mikayla what she loves most about the work she does with foxes.
"That's hard to say," she replied. "There's so much I love about it and there's so much that's very hard about it. I love bottle raising the little babies. That's always such a cool bonding experience for me.
I think it’s because they're not releasable. They were born in captivity, and they don't know how to live in the wild — it will never be a possibility for them. I like the bonding experience of bottle-raising and socializing them. It makes my heart happy."
Mikayla also wants people to know that it’s actually illegal to release captive born animals into the wild, because they can harbor diseases that can obliterate wild populations. Finally, I asked Mikayla what one thing she would tell the world about foxes if she had the chance.
"One important point that doesn’t really apply to captive foxes, but rather wild foxes, is that we shouldn’t feed them," she said. "Feeding and interacting with wild foxes can make them too comfortable around people and put them at risk of being killed. Also, for their health, they need to hunt for food and eat their natural diet."
For more information on Mikayla’s rescue, you can visit their website at SaveAFox, or their Facebook or Instagram pages.