The Fox Effect

By Amy Shutt (written in December 2016)

I’ve never lived a conventional life. Things don’t happen to me in the same way or order they do for most people I know. I didn’t go to college right out of high school and graduate in four years with a degree that would guarantee me a job with benefits and a 401K. The route I chose took me 10 years before I was able to graduate college. I attended three universities and went through three majors before staying put in Philosophy. I had basically given up photography when I switched my major from it to Philosophy.  Going to school for photo had unfortunately caused an aversion to the craft. 

I worked and went to school mostly part-time, but pushed through full-time the past two years. During all this I was also raising my daughter on my own and had been since I was 21 years old . I worked 14 hour days on my online retail business and it was doing fairly well. 

In the spring of 2007 I was running my business from home and it was doing well enough that I eventually needed more space. After many years of living in a tiny garage apartment I finally had the means to move into a real house. It was still a rental but this was a real house on a lake near the university, and perhaps one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in this city. 

I chose the house because it was built in the late 1930s and there were heirloom bulbs in the messy cottage garden. I recognized the gladiolus flowers were a variety from the 1940s and the walking irises were just as old, probably passed along from a neighbor. I also chose the house because I could look out the kitchen window and see cormorants, herons and egrets on the lake through early blooming camellias that dotted the long rolling back yard. I’d always lived near water and I was excited to continue the trend for my daughter. Waterways, ponds, and lakes in Louisiana mean birds, turtles, and other fantastic critters-the kinds of things that just feel like home to me.  

We had been living in the new house a month so far so we were still busy settling in and unpacking. One gorgeous Louisiana spring afternoon as we headed home, I drove into our neighborhood and as I turned the corner only a block from our house my daughter pointed and yelled, “Mom, I just saw a fox!”. I instantly slammed on the breaks and looked back; she was right. There to my left sitting in the drainage ditch between the street and the sidewalk was an adult fox. Her copper fur shown like tiny blazes of fire in the late afternoon light as it filtered through the Live Oak tree canopy above. I backed my car up slowly and stopped when we were eye to eye with her. She just stared at us; she didn’t budge. To this day I think she was the tamest, or boldest, fox I’ve ever come across. 

I was locking eyes with something that looked and felt so much like a domestic dog, until I noticed her thin vertically oriented pupils. They were more cat-like than canid.  At that moment I didn’t know why her pupils were shaped like that, but I saw the wildness of that animal in a way I’ve never seen it in an animal before or since. I couldn’t look away; I was completely transfixed.

Later I would learn that the shape of the fox’s pupil and the degree to which they can close down or open them is what allows them to see in dim light; its an important feature since they are largely nocturnal. Not only that, vertically oriented pupils help predators who hunt ambush style, those who hide until they attack their prey from a close distance.  The pupil shape allows them to judge distance without moving their head, which for an ambush predator is vital to avoid detection from their prey. We stared each other down for a few more seconds before she very calmly disappeared into the drainage pipe. 

I quickly drove home to grab my camera. All my film cameras were boxed away so all I kept around was a point and shoot that could fit in a coat pocket. Armed with my tiny camera, I pulled the car up next to the drainage pipe and out popped the adult fox. And then to our surprise out popped a fox kit too! The kit was just as bold as the mom and she looked at us curiously, sniffing the air. We watched them for a couple of minutes then they disappeared into the pipe. I took three snapshots that day.

Evening walks soon led us to the den. The fox family was making their home just a few blocks from our home underneath an old uninhabited but maintained house. The house faced the lake and was on a rather busy road, but the foxes largely used the drainage pipes to navigate the area. I remember one morning just after sunrise we drove past the fox house and noticed a small traffic jam caused by the sight of the kits playing rambunctiously outside of their den. As I slowly drove past a man in a truck opposite of me asked, “Can you believe this?  Amazing isn’t it?” I smiled and nodded my head. Yes, it was quite an amazing sight.  

People seemed to really enjoy this little mini-view into the wild on their way to work or school. Taking in the entire scene made me smile, but I remember being a bit concerned for their well-being at the same time. It seems for every one person who welcomes urban wildlife there is another who feels the opposite and who might be capable of trying to have the animal removed and “relocated”. The problem with this is two-fold. Removing and relocating or trapping and killing an animal from an environment just opens up the space for another animal to move in, and if the population is healthy,  one will. Both of these options have always seemed pointless to me. Also, animals are territorial. Relocating an animal could dump it into another animal’s territory, immediately causing conflict. 

About a week after we discovered the den location, my daughter and I sat down at the bottom of the fox house driveway at dusk to watch the fox family emerge from under the house. We sat about 15 feet from each other and kept a good distance from the den entrance. One by one they slowly started to emerge. Mom fox noticed us immediately but kept a distance and just watched us watching her babies, who ran and romped and played and chirped. The bolder kit of the litter soon took notice of my daughter, looking curiously and sniffing the air as he made his way towards her. The others followed soon after. At the time my daughter had long hair down to her waist and she used a fruit-scented shampoo. I wondered if the fruity scents of her freshly washed hair is what drew them to her.. They got closer and closer and eventually their little noses were an inch from her hair and for 20 seconds there was my daughter with a garland of coppery little foxes wrapped around her. The one thought that keep going through my mind was, ‘Why don’t you have a camera with you?’  They eventually lost interest and went back to their romping and running. My daughter was 11 at the time and I know it was an experience she’ll always remember. 

After that, I remembered to bring my point and shoot with me on our next early evening walk. Keeping distance and watching to make sure I wasn’t making mom fox uncomfortable or nervous,  I shot off a few pictures to document the family. The pictures are awful because of the low resolution of the tiny camera and with bad lighting it couldn't correct for, but they are still some of my favorites captured moments. They represent the last time I saw the fox family. Neighborhood talk was that the couple to the left of the fox house had them trapped and removed. I’ll never know if that happened, or if they were run off from the den, but either way we never saw them again.  

The pictures also represents a very pivotal moment in my life and it’s why I feel I owe so much to the fox. After I took those snapshots that day I uploaded them to an online forum I used to journal and speak to friends on. The first response was from a Russian photographer friend of mine, “Oh these do these creatures no justice. Go and get your cameras out of storage, stop being stubborn, and start shooting again” was the gist of what he typed to me that day. And I remember thinking that he was off the mark because I was just shooting the foxes in a documentary fashion and it didn’t matter. However, I knew deep down it did matter. It mattered in the sense that I gave up something that once gave me great joy and happiness. I gave up the one thing I never got bored with and the one thing I was always hungry to learn more about. It wasn’t just a disservice to the foxes but it was a disservice to myself too.  I was being stubborn and getting in my own way.

I vowed that day to start shooting again. It meant a lot at the time because I had yet to make the DSLR leap from film. I was a purist and had resisted it for some time. But that day it all became clear, and I started saving up for my first DSLR. Had none of these experiences happened, had I never moved to that house, had I never seen those foxes,  I would not be doing what I do today.  Photography would not be a part of my life. And yes, I came back to it in a roundabout unconventional way and “late” comparatively speaking, but as I mentioned early on--nothing I do seems to be the result of conventions. I follow my heart more often than my logic, which can sometimes result in a little bit of magic in my life.  

Sometimes when I am with students at a workshop or they tell me how much they have fallen in love with photography or nature having gone through my basic photography class, a little picture of the fox family pops up in my mind. Over the past 4 years, I’ve taught hundreds of students and I wonder if I’d never had the pleasure of meeting the fox family if, photographically speaking, my students would be doing what they are doing today. 

It makes me think of the term butterfly effect, with reference to chaos theory, which is defined as “the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere”. It’s not exactly the same thing, but taking from the general idea I’ve come to call all of this The Fox Effect. There are undeniable links and connections to foxes in my life and to the people around me. This new photojournalistic project of mine on canids that I’ve been formulating in my mind for almost a year now is a tribute to these inspirational creatures we call foxes and their canid relatives. It is about this effect they have had on my life and those who come into contact with them in some capacity. I hope you follow along. 

The Wildlife In Our Backyards

Text by Amy Shutt // Photos by Ashleigh Scully, Brittany Crossman, and Amy Shutt

Let’s talk about the wildlife in our backyards. 

I’m going to get straight to the point. I want to talk about the responsibilities we have to the wildlife with whom we share our immediate surroundings.  Yes, I mean the raccoons we hear arguing in our back gardens at night, and the opossums playing dead in our accidentally open trash cans outside, and the ghostly red streak we see shooting in front of our car as we drive home on a dark evening (that we somehow know is a fox), and the coyotes singing us serenades at twilight. 

I hear people often express in exasperated voices how they cannot believe they are seeing foxes or “so many” raccoons in their neighborhood.  They can’t believe they live in a city and feel these animals should not be there - in the city - as well. They would rather see those wild animals in the woods where they “belong” - as if cities have always been here and these wild animals are encroaching on us, with their trees and forests.  There is a disconnect in such statements.  I think it comes from just not knowing the facts or from blindly believing untruths that were passed down over the years.  I am mostly optimistic and feel  that if people are exposed to the facts, they will see the flaws in those statements.  

The first truth I want to discuss (as far as the United States is concerned) is this: the four animals  mentioned above have actually benefitted from human expansion, and there are reasons they will hang around the edges, in suburbs, in small towns, and in large cities.  They are even labeled "edge species", and for good reason. They learned early on that our villages, towns, and large cities provide a lot of food via our trash and the rodents that are drawn to it. That is a fact and not much is going to change that.  We’ve inadvertently produced perfect conditions for these edge species to thrive!


Another fact is that removing a wild animal from a suburban or urban area, whether a single raccoon or ten raccoons, or a whole fox family, does not solve anything.  What actually happens when a trapper removes an animal?  Well, with his trap and animal in hand, he leaves your property and has also left a vacancy for another individual animal to occupy. If the local population of that species is healthy, another individual will fill that vacancy, sometimes overnight but certainly sooner or later.  Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll notice another “pesky” critter that will  “need” to be removed.  Rinse and repeat. 

Some people may not care much about where the wild animals they have had removed from their properties end up, but I’m sure most do to some degree. Some people may turn a blind eye and just tell themselves it was released in the woods miles away and that all is ok.  After all, ignorance is bliss. But, you need to know that is rarely the case. 

For instance, in some states if a coyote is trapped, the trapper has only two legal choices: euthanize it, or, if he has the proper permits, sell it to a coyote pen operation. It’s often the same for red foxes.  I hear the going rate is a hundred dollars a head where I live.  So, the trapper can euthanize the coyote and get nothing in return or for a hundred bucks, he can sell a coyote to a person who will put it in a penned-in property, where it will be chased and terrorized by competing hunting dogs with no place to hide and no way to escape.  These competitions can last days. The coyotes and foxes will be ran to such exhaustion that they will often give up after a few hours, too tired to run anymore.  At that point, the hunting dogs are more able to kill the exhausted coyote or fox (although not legally-but can you imagine trying to call off dogs from a target that is helpless in front of them?).  In other words, these animals are possibly doomed to a cruel and grisly death, or at the very least a tormented existence.

Shocking, right? I had no idea this even existed legally until this year. But it does.  Check out this link to find out more about these operations:

Or download this penning fact sheet here:

Ok, so maybe now you can see that trapping and "relocating" isn’t the best idea, and in some instances - with coyotes especially – we are inadvertently producing more coyotes by culling them. For more information on this “rebound effect” see these articles below:

Maybe now you “get it”, but you still aren’t so keen with the idea of foxes or coyotes in your yard or garden.  You may be wondering what one can do humanely to discourage wild canids from visiting their yards and gardens.  Heck, you may be on the opposite end of the spectrum and wonder what you can do to encourage nightly visits from our wild friends (I’ll give you a hint: it is NEVER to feed them).


So, let’s talk about what one can do to encourage or discourage wildlife from one’s property, and do so in ethical and humane ways that won’t upset your neighbors, as some may likely share your same views, but some will also have differing opinions.  How can we all coexist with the least amount of conflict?

Why feeding wildlife is not the best idea:

  •  In the United States there’s a reason we see ‘DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE’ signs in city parks, on nature trails, and in national parks. For starters, feeding wildlife causes animals to lose their natural fear of humans.  Although this may be fun for you, it is ultimately a selfish act.  Is your feeding habit inadvertently putting the animal in danger? Are you causing these animals to cross roads they wouldn’t need to cross otherwise so they can have a tasty treat in your yard?
  • How do your neighbors feel about them? There will likely be some neighbors who are not so keen on having wild animals in their yards, or the leftover food cached in their gardens.  The same neighbor or, maybe another one, might get frightened by a wild animal that approaches them for a handout, because it will begin to associate humans with food. Often, feeding wildlife ends badly for the animal and can make a naturally elusive animal one that is a brazen nuisance.  I’ve heard all too many times the story of the disgruntled neighbor calling animal control to have the “nuisance” animal removed. Some may even leave poison out, which then endangers all animals, not just the target animal.  I recently heard a story of a man in a neighborhood, only 20 minutes away from where I live, shooting coyotes out his bathroom window after he lured them to his yard with raw meat. 
  • If food is overly plentiful due to “supplemental” feedings from humans, animals like foxes and coyotes will not disperse as they normally would in the late summer and early fall in the wild.  This can cause a larger population density in a smaller area, which can result in injuries, sometimes even death, as they fight over food and territory. It also increases the likelihood of transmission of disease due to unnatural crowding.
  • Diseases, viruses and parasites can easily and quickly spread from animal to animal as they gather to feed in abnormally crowded conditions.  If you are feeding a fox, then you are also likely attracting feral cats, raccoons, opossums, rats, etc.
  • Feeding wild animals from cars makes them less scared of vehicles, which just increases the chances for them to be hurt or killed in a collision.
  •  Last, they don’t need us! Enjoy wildlife from a distance.  It’s much more rewarding to observe them in their natural behavioral state.  Perhaps try your hand at wildlife photography or get some binoculars.

What you can do instead of feeding wildlife to make your yard wildlife friendly:

  • Make brush piles!  Small animals and birds will benefit from them.  They provide cover and shelter for reptiles, birds, and small mammals. The animals attracted to the brush piles will also attract larger mammals into your yard. See more on brush piles here: 
  • Do not use rodent poison or traps! You can kill or hurt other wildlife or roaming pets in the process. 
  •  Plant native plants. Adapted to local conditions, natives require little care, and the insects and fruit that they produce increase populations of  the prey species used by the “edge” species, all of which occasionally themselves eat insects and fruit .  Staying native provides seasonal food that these animals eat in the wild.  And when it’s not seasonally available, the animals will move on, as they do in the wild, to find food elsewhere. For more info, see:
  • Install a pond or water feature.  Water in a yard is a magnet for dozens of species of wildlife. If you put it out there, they will come. See:

What you can do to discourage foxes or coyotes from loitering or denning in your yard:

  • Hazing!  Hazing includes being loud and large. Yell and wave your arms while approaching the animal. Try using loud horns, whistles, banging pots together., or spraying water from a hose.  For more info see:
  • Keep your trash cans closed.  Rinse all cans and food containers going into recycle bins.
  • Feed and water your pets inside and do not leave pet food or water outside.
  • Keep your compost in closed bins.
  •  Remove fallen fruit from the ground.
  • Repair broken floorboards on porches and close up openings that lead under the house or sheds.
  • Keep your pets inside and do not let them roam off leash.
  • If you have cats outside, consider keeping them indoors (for more on this, see: ) , provide a screened in porch or catio for enrichment, or consider a cat fence with predator guard: 
  • Keep chickens/rabbits in good strong enclosures that are predator proof.

I am a firm believer in the possibility of true coexistence with our wild neighbors.  It's time now for a paradigm shift in the way we view predators; the recent science tells us so.  It's time to look at the world and its inhabitants as a whole, with every action affecting a part of that whole, not as single, isolated, and disconnected features outside of ourselves.  



  • Red Fox: The Catlike Canine by J. David Henry
  • Behavior of North American Mammals by Elbroch and Rinehart
  • The origin of recently established red fox populations in the United States: translocations or natural range expansions?, Journal of Mammalogy, 93(1):52–65, 2012
  •  Movement Patterns, Home Range And Den Site Selection Of Urban Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) On Prince Edward Island (Thesis 2016) by Hailey J Lambe
  • Range structure in the red fox (Vulpes vulpes L.) in the forest zone of Eastern Europe, Contemporary Problems of Ecology, February 2010, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 119–126
  • The influence of habitat patch attributes on coyote group size and interaction in a fragmented landscape by Todd C Atwood, 2008 ( Canadian Journal of Zoology, 2006, 84(1): 80-87)
  • Coyote space use in relation to prey abundance by L. Scott Mills and , Frederick F. Knowlton, 1991 ( Canadian Journal of Zoology, 1991, 69(6): 1516-1521) 

How You Can Help

The Canid Project is a young organization just getting its true start in 2017. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our educational endeavors, future projects, and our brand new Louisiana state-permitted fox rescue and rehabilitation facility are run entirely on public donations.  Please consider donating to our cause: