Kathleen Fedewa has loved foxes for as long as she can remember.
"They are my favorite animal," the Farmington resident said. "There are ranch-bred foxes that are generations removed from the wild, but they're still wild ... They don't make the best pets."
While she now owns a genetically domesticated fox, Fedewa may not be able to bring it home, because of a new ordinance under consideration by the Farmington city council. But that challenge pales when compared by what she had to go through just to get her fox to the U.S.
A decade ago, Fedewa learned about scientists with the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Russia who were breeding foxes specifically for tameness, as part of an experiment in genetics. Simply put, they would selectively breed animals that were the least aggressive, and over 40 generations, produced animals that are considered tame. (You can read about the program in a Scientific American 2010 blog post.)
Last March, Fedewa saw a National Geographic cover story on the foxes reported that surplus animals were being sold.
"I was like, I'm doing it. I'm getting one of these foxes," she said.
Through the Internet, she connected with the Russian lab selling the foxes; they referred her to a company called "Sibfox" that had been contracted to facilitate sales to U.S. buyers. The fox would cost $3,200; Sibfox's fee was an additional $3,500. But Fedewa was determined.
"It's an expensive process, so that wasn't unreasonable," she said. "I picked (a fox), I signed a contract and I waited."
It takes three months for the animals to go through required vaccinations and sterilization. In August, Sibfox said delivery would be delayed until October, but in October, Fedewa received an email saying her money would be refunded, because the imported foxes were sick and had been sent back to Russia.
"I knew something was fishy," she said. After doing her own investigation, she learned an animal sanctuary in Austin, TX had just acquired two red foxes from Russia. She knew one of them was hers, but both had been confiscated by the State of Texas. Still, Fedewa didn't give up.
A new fox, a new business
She contacted the Russian researchers, who "were very embarrassed by what happened, and they were willing to work with me to try to make things right," she said. They connected her with animal importer Mitchell Kalmanson, who traveled to Russia months later and picked up a female fox that Fedewa has named "Anya". She is currently staying at Kalmanson's home in Florida, where Fedewa traveled to meet her two weeks ago.
It was the first successful U.S. importation of a Russian domestic fox to a private citizen – and the start of a business for Fedewa. She is working with Kalmanson to promote imports to the U.S. and around the world, via her website, domesticfox.com.
But she won't bring Anya to Farmington until she knows for sure she won't be violating a city ordinance. Officials on Feb. 16 approved introduction of ordinance definitions designed to help enforce city codes regarding domestic and exotic animals. The portion that affects Fedewa's fox defines "exotic or vicious" animals as being of a wild or predatory nature and not domesticated or indigenous to the state.
Council members are expected to take up the ordinance again at their March 5 meeting.
In comments made on Feb. 16, Fedewa's neighbors spoke out against allowing her to keep a fox, because of safety concerns. Fedewa said everyone who has met her fox "falls in love with her."
"Anya is 10 pounds," she said. "She's a very small animal."
Fedewa said she has been working with city manager Vince Pastue to bring the issue to some kind of resolution, but it's really much bigger than one fox in Farmington.
Through on-line groups, she has learned a number of states and communities have laws in the works about exotic animals, after an Ohio man who kept many exotic animals released them, then committed suicide. No people were injured, but 49 of the 56 animals were killed.
Fedewa believes the concern is overblown and that the proposed ordinance, as it stands, isn't fair to those who enjoy owning unusual animals. If officials have specific concerns, she'd like to see those brought out in the open and resolved with regulations or select bans.
"If you're going to take away somebody's right to do something, you'd better have a good reason, because you're making somebody's life worse," she said.