Eric Mason currently lives in Arkansas, and is one of the most dedicated and visible fox owners on the internet. He posts dozens of videos of his pet red fox, named Ron, on YouTube, and is very active on all kinds of pet fox forums. He's also highly active on furry forums, where he posts under the name Albi Azul. His profile on FurAffinity.net says, "I live on the awesome furry and TF artwork of yall artists here, but I have the privilege and responsibility to love and take care of my pet red fox Ron! Greetings from Mountain Home, Arkansas!" He has a mostly unused DeviantArt page and has posted many pictures of himself in a giant blue fox costume, along with trip reports from furry conventions. Exotic animal owners often end up in the furry community; the level of obsession and dedication needed to care for an unconventional pet is much higher than for a dog or cat owner, so exotic pet owners tend to make their pets a more prominent part of their lives than other pet owners. It's also not everyone who wants an exotic so badly they'll rearrange their lives around it; even Fedewa says these people tend to be "a little eccentric."
Eric's fox Ron is not domesticated, but is among the most tame I've ever seen. Watching videos of Ron compared to Fedewa's fox Anya, it's clear that Anya is more affectionate, more dog-like, less skittish and a little more easy to control and train than Ron. But Ron is still just about the best-case scenario if you're going for a non-Siberian fox.
Eric's compiled several lists exploring the legality of owning a pet fox in every state. I believe he at one point lived in Pennsylvania. Though the law states that foxes are illegal to own except for purposes of fur harvesting, Eric suggests talking to "Jason in the permits department" in Harrisburg because "otherwise, you will get conflicting stories." But Eric and the breeders at Tiny Tracks are playing a very different game than Fedewa.
"I grew up reading Jack London and those kinds of animal stories," says Fedewa. "And I also like comics, so I decided to combine them." She had had an idea for a London-inspired comic about wolves while she was in middle school, and while attending the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor she self-published the comic, now called The Blackblood Alliance. It caught on with the furry community, which, says Fedewa, is why she started going to furry conventions ("furrycons"). "I'd wear a tail and ears to the furrycons," she says. "I'm not really into that but when you're in the cons, it's fun, everyone's dressed up, it's like Halloween."
But foxes had a special place for her. "I was always crazy about foxes," says Fedewa. "It was the first animal I really loved, and I always wanted one as a pet." But Fedewa, despite what I expected from a Siberian-fox-importer who writes wolf comics and attends furry conventions, is not an especially odd person. Fedewa is a 27-year-old Michigan native who works in the videogame industry, doing modeling, texturing, and user interface work for a company called Stardock. She speaks with a thick and charming Michigan accent, and talks about her love of animals with self-awareness and humor--she knows what it sounds like, investing years of her life into acquiring a rare domesticated Siberian fox, knows that it's not something most people would do, but she's not apologetic. "I like animals and I think it's fun to take care of them," she says. And it kind of is that simple. She wanted a fox! No big deal!
But she also has her own life and had no interest in attempting to wrangle one of the "tame" foxes from a place like Tiny Tracks. "I didn't want to force myself on a wild animal that hates me, that I'm forcing to live with me," she says. And that's what you'll get from a "tame" fox; there's a huge range in personality, so you might luck out and get one that's amenable to living with a human, like Mason's fox Ron, but you might have one that wants nothing to do with you or even one that's violent. Even worse, when wild/tame foxes age from juvenile to mature, they go through hormonal changes and can become extremely aggressive. ("They turn into real bastards," says Fedewa.) That's common to many animals; primates are well-known for this abrupt change. But a true domesticated animal doesn't suffer this problem.
After she discovered the Siberian institute, Fedewa got curious. "I contacted the Institute last year," she says, "and talked to them about [legally] importing one of the foxes. No one had ever done that before." The way to do this legally is to find a licensed exotic animal importer--and she found her man in Mitch Kalmanson.
"I have 34 tigers in my backyard," Mitch Kalmanson told me, early in our phone conversation. "I picked [another] one up yesterday." Also in his backyard, a 200-acre property just north of Orlando, Florida, are lions, cougars, leopards, a liger (a lion/tiger mix), a yak, minks, dogs, and assorted herd animals--horses, watusi (an African breed of cattle), zebu (an Indian breed of cattle), and emu. He also has three domesticated foxes.
Kalmanson is a professional exotic animal importer, licensed by the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Those different licenses cover the various jobs he has--he maintains exotic animals on his property, but he also ventures across the world to obtain animals for zoos, laboratories, private customers, and whoever else needs a herd of watusi or a couple of dolphins. He's also a risk manager for Lloyd's of London, the British insurance market, and insures exotic animals. He insures zoos, circuses, private facilities, labs--pretty much anyone who needs insurance on an exotic, they call Mitch. He's also a high school dropout, though he's since acquired a college degree and has taken many post-graduate classes. I got the sense he found traditional schooling a waste of time, an imprecise way to get where he wanted to go.
He is an off-putting person to talk to. Kay was chatty, friendly, funny; she was worried I'd paint her as a weirdo, which is the kind of thing no weirdo would ever think to say. I think Mitch Kalmanson might be a weirdo. That has absolutely no bearing on his professional aptitude, which is considerable, but makes for a curious phone conversation. Kalmanson speaks very quickly, very precisely; he does not elaborate, he does not add in anecdotes or facts or insight you didn't ask for, and he has a very curious habit of saying his piece and then just falling silent and waiting for your next move. Most people, during interviews, if they finish answering a question and don't immediately get a followup, will continue talking--they'll try to fill the silence with more words, or questions, or something. Mitch does not; it was like he was reading a prepared statement and when he finished it, he was done talking. But he also knows his stuff very, very deeply. The effect of his odd conversational style is an impression of total confidence and competence.
He seemed much more comfortable talking dispassionately about his work and his facilities--when I asked for his opinion on these domesticated foxes, he hesitated, for the first and only time. "I got three at the house now," he said. "They're very smart, smarter than a damn dog. Unique and curious animals." He forcefully corrected me when I referred to foxes bred by breeders like Tiny Tracks as "tame." "They're not tame," he said--almost snapped, though he's not rude, exactly. "They claim that because the babies are tame. But at 10 months, they'll turn. That's why they typically won't show you any older animals."
When Fedewa called him up and asked him about going to Siberia to retrieve domesticated foxes, Kalmanson did his homework, interviewed her repeatedly, and decided she was up to his standards. He stopped just short of saying "does not compute" when I asked if he liked Fedewa. "Like" is irrelevant. She was deemed an acceptable business partner. So last February, he got on a plane and flew out to Siberia. The laboratory there sold him a year-old domesticated female red fox for $3,200. The blood testing was done by a farm veterinarian out in Russia, though Mitch had to fabricate his own cage--he says a standard dog kennel isn't up to the task of containing a fox. Then he flew back. His fee is high, between six and twelve thousand dollars, but in the future, he'll be able to bring back up to seven domesticated fox kits at a time, which will be cheaper per fox. Fedewa plans to sell the foxes for about $8,000 each.
With Mitch's help, Fedewa created The Domestic Fox, a project that she hopes will make yearly trips to Siberia to obtain fox kits for owners in North America and Europe. The foxes are available in several color morphs--these are all red foxes, Vulpes vulpes, but their fur can vary in color from the classic red to black to silver to white. If you contact her now, you can snag a fox born this spring, and receive it sometime in fall 2013.single page