Willa was no doubt minding his own business as he wandered around the state of New South Wales in Australia. We can only imagine his fear, then, when his eyes met those of a local farmer, who had every intention of shooting him. Willa’s crime? Simply being the wrong species of fox.
Red foxes are native to the northern hemisphere and are found naturally across Europe, Asia and Northern America. They were first introduced to Australia in the 1800s, when they were brought to the country by British settlers who wanted to continue their tradition of fox hunting.
However, as of 2012 there was thought to be more than 7.2 million red foxes Down Under, where they are now considered a serious problem as an invasive species. That’s because red foxes have been responsible for the decline and even extinction of many native Australian species, including the desert rat-kangaroo.
In order to deal with this issue, then, the Australian government released a “threat abatement plan” in 2008. In its report, the government encouraged people to shoot foxes if the animals intrude on their property.
So when this baby red fox wandered onto a farmer’s land, it seemed that he was living on borrowed time. With every intention of shooting the animal, the farmer called on a neighbor to see if he could borrow a gun; luckily for the fox, the neighbor was out.
In the end, then, the farmer contacted Sydney Fox Rescue: the only organization in Australia working to keep the red foxes safe. The charity rescues the animals, neuters and vaccinates them and then rehomes the critters in partner sanctuaries, where they are protected from the government’s threat abatement plan.
Once the rescue team had the baby fox in their care, the team gave the little animal the name “Willa.” And after his medical check and treatment, little Willa made friends with another recently found baby fox named Athena at Sugarshine FARM Sanctuary, their new home.
Sadly, the young foxes were together only a few days before a python struck and killed Athena. Finding himself all alone in the world once more, Willa sought the attention of an unlikely companion.
Curiously, Willa started to tag along with the sanctuary’s greyhound Isabel. Like Willa, Isabel had been rescued from almost certain death; after a failed career as a race dog, she was at the vet waiting to get euthanized when fate intervened.
Luckily, someone stopped the owner and vet from following through by putting the beautiful dog down. Sugarshine FARM Sanctuary’s co-founder Kelly Nelder adopted Isabel straight away, and now the race dog spends her days on the sanctuary with her foxy friend.
Isabel and Willa hit things off straight away, in fact, and they were the best of friends in no time. “Isabel has a very gentle and tolerant nature. She’ll let Willa jump all over her, steal her food and snuggle against her tummy,” Nelder told The Dodo in September 2016.
One of the pair’s favorite things to do is to visit the beach together. And although not having a place to hide was against Willa’s nature, Isabel helped make her little friend feel safe in the open space.
“Isabel’s a very fast runner, but she slowed her pace right down and walked near Willa,” explained Nelder to The Dodo. “Soon after that, they were digging holes in the sand together and frolicking in the dunes.”
Another one of Willa’s favorite games to play is chasing Isabel’s tail. “It holds endless fascination for him. He sneaks behind her, stares at her tail for awhile, then pounces,” Nelder added. “If he gets hold of her tail he tries to take it to his hidey spot with his toys. He doesn’t seem to realize that Isabel’s permanently attached!”
When they’re not running around after each other, meanwhile, they can be found enjoying a little cuddle. Isabel is often seen grooming Willa’s soft fur or trapping his tiny head gently in her mouth to calm him down.
Still, while Willa’s amazing story is heartwarming, it now seems unlikely to be replicated for other red foxes. In 2014 the authorities in New South Wales passed a law making it illegal to keep foxes as pets. Indeed, any wild foxes that are caught are supposed to be killed straight away.
Luckily for Willa, he was registered as a pet before the law came into force – so he’s safe for now, as long as he stays at the sanctuary. But, sadly, that means no more beach visits with his beloved Isabel.
Understandably, the new law has angered Nelder, who has worked tirelessly to save these beautiful creatures. “There are no evil animals. Yes, wild foxes can be deadly to wildlife, but if kept in enclosures and well cared for, they are no longer a threat but are beautiful, funny animals with loads of personality,” she said to The Dodo.
“They shouldn’t be killed just for being born a fox, but unfortunately the current pest order means just that,” Nelder added. Sydney Fox Rescue has set up an online petition to repeal the law, but the New South Wales authorities have yet to budge.
Often, as human beings we feel like we are more intelligent and have a greater emotional conscious than our fellow animals. However, if we can learn anything from Isabel and Willa’s beautiful friendship, it’s that all living things have a place in this world and, if we give each other a chance, we can find compromises that work for everyone.