Foxes are unusual creatures, branded by words like sly, mischievous and stealthy. However, to Mikayla Raines, foxes are her whole world. As the founder, owner and operator of SaveAFox Rescue, Raines cares for 20 foxes at a time—all with unique and quirky personalities. She developed a love for animals of all kinds at a young age and pursued her passion for foxes after graduating from college. Instead of going down the planned path of becoming a veterinary technician, she started up a fox rescue and it's been one wild ride ever since. From finding a new home for herself and her foxes to rescuing 28 foxes from a hoarding nightmare, Raines has truly dedicated her life to helping animals. Take a look at our interview with the SaveAFox founder and let us know what you think of her furry friends in the comments section on social media.
When did you fall in love with foxes and how did that lead to you rescuing fox pups of your own?
I’ve been in love with wildlife, including foxes, since early childhood. I grew up as an only child in a neighborhood association where there was nobody my age to meet and play with, but there was a large wildlife reserve outside my house, and that served as my playground. I found myself fascinated with documenting new animals and their behaviors in a journal I kept. Sometimes, my mom would allow me to sleep in the backyard during the warmer months. I would bring my dinner leftovers with me and hand-feed wild raccoons, with whom I formed an especially deep bond, and an opossum.
I guess it would be easy to say that I was drawn to foxes and wildlife by default, but I feel my ability to relate to and be friends with animals runs deeper than that. I’d still be at this same place in life whether I had conventional human friendships from the beginning, or not.
In fact, my unique childhood is a major factor in what brought me to specifically rescuing foxes. When I was 15, I found a gray fox kit nearly drowned in a puddle formed by a sprinkler near our property. I couldn’t even tell what kind of animal it was at first because it was so young. Looking back, that literally was the moment that sculpted my future. My mom allowed me to keep this baby kit to raise and I treated him like he was my own child. I bottle fed and pottied him, I spent every moment with him, even sleeping in the garage next to him with a tarp over me because he wasn’t completely potty trained and wasn’t allowed to be inside the house. He grew very quickly, and by mid summer he was following me everywhere. So I guess you could say that I accidentally fell in love with foxes BECAUSE fate led me to rescue one.
How did you go about starting a rescue and what were the challenges you’ve encountered getting started?
Some years later after graduating, I was studying in a veterinary technician program and had also acquired my second pet fox— an arctic fox kit that I got from a breeder. I know, booo! Truthfully, at that point in time, I was totally unaware that I even could contact fur farms to try and rescue their unwanted animals.
The real transition from pet fox owner to rescue founder began when people started seeing my fox posts on social media. I received messages from people who wanted me to take their foxes when they discovered that a fox was not the right pet for them. I obliged, and left my vet technician program to pursue rescuing other people’s unwanted pet foxes.
Unfortunately, the city I lived in notified me that a fox rescue was illegal there, and left me just three months to find somewhere that I legally could relocate to with the several foxes in my charge. The social media followers who helped guide me into rescue were there for me in full force during this challenge, and helped me raise $60,000 for purchasing a suitable property that I was settled into before the end of the three months!
The move itself wasn’t the most challenging part though, finding the property was. If you are able to find a plot that physically suits the needs of the foxes in terms of space and climate, you’re sure to have red tape and zoning laws or a spiteful, relentless neighbor there to make things difficult!
What makes foxes and fox rescue unique?
I’d say foxes, as a whole, are unique in that they’re fully captivating to most people who are lucky enough to spot a wild one, yet they are classified among the ranks of frequently seen Whitetail Deer and common house mice, according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Fox conservation status is considered to be of “Least Concern” here, meaning the wild population is plentiful, and yet we don’t often see them. Foxes also bear the unlikely credentials of being considered a nuisance in most places, yet still sought after as a luxury item. So, foxes are luxury pests, I guess. Fox rescue is unique, well, because it’s unique!
There are only a handful of fox rescues in the United States. And as I mentioned previously, the challenges involved in procuring a property to house a fox rescue severely limit one’s ability to start up a fox rescue, so there aren’t really a ton of them out there.
Fox rescue requires extreme patience, with non-stop cleanup, and many sacrifices that aren’t typical to domestics rescues. Since foxes do not comprehend discipline, when your fox marks your coffee mug with its urine while you’ve turned your back, you need to be the type to either accept that this is part of the territory that comes with fox rescuing, or try and discover a creative approach to prevent your coffee from being peed in again without the use of punishment.
What are the different species of foxes you rescue and do they have different needs?
SaveAFox Rescue currently has Red foxes (their fur color morphs range from white to black and everything in between), Gray Foxes (bred only as pets because Gray Fox fur is not desirable) and Arctic Foxes.
As far as having different needs, there isn’t a major difference between these three. Their diets are very similar, they’re well suited for Minnesota’s climate and require the same types of enclosures, and they’re all inherently solitary animals, as opposed to being pack animals. When examining the social needs of foxes in relation to humans, the Gray Fox requires the most effort to establish trust with.
How do you come across foxes that need to be rescued and what’s your craziest rescue story?
Most of the time, the foxes I rescue these days come from fur farmers throughout the Midwest. I’ve built a rapport with some of them over the years, and they typically are willing to let me come get foxes that they deem useless or a liability. SaveAFox also takes in a good number of surrendered pet foxes too, because people find out the hard way that foxes are just incredibly difficult pets to share a home with.
That's why I show the unpolished, raw reality of having foxes in my home— the uptick in pet foxes being surrendered to us is alarming and it’s because people see photos of pet foxes on Pinterest, go purchase fox pups and expect a domesticated pet, when actually they’re all still very wild at heart.
My craziest fox story is: very recently, a SaveAFox team member received a tip from her hometown in upstate New York, describing a hoarding situation with eyewitness accounts of over 30 foxes being kept inside a small building, stacked in cages three-deep. After seeing photographs of the foxes standing in inches of waste and being fed dollar store cat food, we organized a stealth rescue mission with the New York state and local law enforcement to confiscate the foxes and place them in actual fox rescue facilities (SaveAFox is at capacity so we had to recruit other rescues to aide in this mission).
It was all in all just a horrific situation, with foxes indoors, zip-tied into their cages, standing in their own excrement and spilled kibble… I even saw one police officer on the scene throw up because of the smell. And to add to the calamity of going across the country to rescue what ended up being a total of 28 foxes, the country was in the beginning stages of this pandemic. Everything was shut down, and we had to carry legal order documents from New York in order to cross through Ohio and New York without being stopped and told to turn back.
Take me through a day in the life of a fox rescuer.
A typical day at SaveAFox goes something like this:
Sunrise, cleaning all the enclosures on the 3.5 acre property. Refreshing the fox kibble and their water bowls. Giving medicine or treatment to any foxes, if necessary. After the foxes are taken care of, we do the same for mink and a few other animals (currently a skunk, bobcat, coyote, a raccoon and a possum) who have different dietary needs.
By afternoon, there are often vet appointments to go to, running errands to get food and supplies, giving tours (by appointment only) and spending time with the foxes to maintain a relationship and trust with all of them. And since each fox has a monthly sponsor, part of the sponsorship agreement includes a weekly post and update about the fox. So getting photos of each of our 20 foxes and writing updates about them takes up a good part of my time, usually in the afternoons.
In the evening, we start getting the foxes settled in for the night. They need to be fed raw portions daily, and they look forward to this the most, so we give them raw chicken in the evening so that we can use it to get them back into their enclosures for the night.
What are the biggest challenges of running a fox rescue and how have your volunteers helped your business?
Right now, the biggest challenge for us is that we cannot rescue any more foxes because we are at the capacity allowed by the city I live in. We have found a good property to open a second location in Florida, and the necessary permits and permissions are in the works right now, but like I mentioned, it's a slow process, and the pandemic has slowed our progress on that even more.
We only have a couple volunteers, but they are amazing volunteers. They come to help with the chores on a typical day, they come to the rescue to sit in for me when I have to leave town and even help with the massive influx of emails and messages that I’m unable to personally answer.
How has social media and your growing fan base impacted SaveAFox Rescue?
Social Media has definitely been the biggest source of funding and support for the rescue. Crowdsourcing is a powerful tool; I am so thankful every single day for it. Our following has never let us down, and we wouldn’t be here saving foxes without them.
One of your best known foxes on social media is Finnegan. What’s his story?
Finnegan is actually just an animatronic fox robot that I had custom made in Japan.
What goals do you have for Save a Fox Rescue?
I would love for our rescue to help reach enough ears to eventually shut down fur farming in the US. I believe that in my lifetime, I will get to see that day. Shorter term goals include continuing to expand, so we can save more foxes. I’d also like to grow to where I am able to pay a staff instead of relying on volunteers to operate. It’s hard work, and I know our volunteers would be with us full-time if funding allowed for it, so I’m working toward making that possible too.