WESTFIELD, NJ — When Westfield resident Jen Andretta spotted what she thought might be a sick wolf or fox while driving down her street on Sunday, she immediately took to Facebook to see if anyone had seen the animal before and to see if anyone might be able to identify the creature.
“Westfield friends: Have you seen this guy? This fox? Wolf?...Was hanging around out in the middle of our street. He wasn’t scared of us (we were scared and stayed in the car). Looked tired and hungry,” she wrote.
Nearly 200 comments responded to the post on her personal page alone, with most people saying they believed the animal was a fox that was sick with mange — a skin disease caused by parasitic mites that causes severe itching, hair loss and the formation of scabs and lesions.
Andretta took the thread one step further to see if anyone might be able to help with treatment.
“I just feel like my philosophy on social media is that it’s a way for us to have more of a community and now it’s like, ‘Okay community, let’s help!’” Andretta said.
As the comments continued to come in, a friend and Facebook contact of Andretta’s purchased the non-prescription medication used for the treatment of mange, Ivermectin, and had it shipped overnight to the Andretta’s home.
The medication comes with risks, Andretta said, including dangers to other animals who may come into contact with the medication, the threat of attracting other wildlife when baiting the medication and the issue with children being exposed to both the wildlife and the medication.
“It’s all dangerous, there are risks associated, but I do think it is worth it,” said Andretta. She said that, as a busy full-time working parent who lives in a neighborhood with small children, she didn’t feel comfortable taking on the responsibility of treating the fox.
“I’m not prepared to put my children at risk, but I can’t do nothing. So my hope is that someone might be in a better position to do it,” she said. “I’ll give them the medicine and the hot dogs to go with it.”
Andretta has reached out to the NJ Environmental Protection Agency, which put in a case number for the animal and has also been in touch with animal control and wildlife conservation organizations, but most said the same thing — unless the animal is a threat to the community or it is captured, they are unable to help.
“People are getting really passionate about it,” said Andretta, who fielded comments from concerned residents who did not think that treatment was a good idea, citing the dangers of interfering with nature and wildlife.
“I get it, but we can help so how can we not help?” she said.
Becky Mace, co-owner of the Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, NJ, agreed.
“Some people think it’s a balance and nature — let them die. But I feel if you see it happening why not help? It really is a horrible death,” said Mace, who currently has two red foxes at the preserve and who has treated an animal with mange in the past.
“You can treat them for mange. It will work as long as you can get the fox in to a specific place to eat or if you have a wildlife rehabber in your area that is willing to trap it,” she said. “The problem is knowing the weight of the animal and the dosage.”
After viewing a photo of the sick fox, Mace said that the condition is most certainly mange, but added that it might not be as bad as the community thinks.
“His body weight looks pretty good,” she said, explaining that foxes tend to be very lean. “If he’s skinny, that’s normal.”
According to Mace, mange is caused by a mite that gets into the hair follicles of these animals, which is why the fox has lost most of its hair. The disease causes extreme itchiness and Mace said that scratches from itching may become infected, which adds to the severity of the condition. There is also the possibility that the fox was suffering from another illness or a pre-existing infection that made it susceptible to mange in the first place, she said.
As far as treatment goes, Mace explained that treating mange in a fox is straight forward.
“It should only take six weeks but with the first dose, the little guy will get a lot of relief,” she said. “If he’s having trouble finding food, he will scarf down whatever he gets. Foxes are smart, they will learn where they can find food.”
Mace said that hotdogs and cat food are best and explained that, even if a fox returns for six to eight weeks for treatment, the community doesn’t need to be concerned about the fox sticking around.
“The fox is going to hang around because he was fed there,” she said. “But once you stop putting food around, he will move on. Or you can even chase him out. Spring and summer are tough times because there may be babies, but they usually have other dens that they can move to.”
As far as community concerns over the fox’s behavior and whether or not it may be aggressive, Mace said there really isn’t a concern.
“As a general rule, foxes are not aggressive towards humans,” she said, adding that foxes are are actually good for the area.
“Foxes are so important to our environment. They kill rodents and other animals that can spread disease,” she said. “They are very social little guys. Often times people mistake a curious fox as a dangerous fox, but it is very rare that they would ever attack a human.”
And in terms of the disease, it can spread, said Mace.
“It can be transmitted to domestic pets if they have contact with the fox,” said Mace. “Humans can get the mites and it will cause itching, but it’s rare that a human would get it from a fox; more likely that a pet would get it.”
Ultimately, Andretta’s goal is to try and help the fox by tracking down the right people to help treat the animal and she encourages anyone with experience or an ability to help to contact her through Facebook.
“My belief is that we should show everyone and everything love and kindness,” said Andretta. “That's how you change the world.”