Here is the news. Regrettably, an urban fox got into a house in Bromley, South East London, whose back door was seemingly open while it awaited repair, and it bit a four-week-old baby. The baby’s finger was bitten off. (Surgeons were able to re-affix the finger, which is good news. Not much else about the story is good news.) Our balanced, responsible newpapers also reported “puncture wounds on his face”, although when the baby’s photo was published on the front of the Mirror and the Sun this morning, none were visible.
The story was related in terrifying, lurid detail, and we learned that the baby’s mother was “in the next room”, when she “heard a scream” and a “loud thud” when the baby was apparently pulled from its cot. She also described his little hand being trapped “halfway down the animal’s throat”. The three-hour operation was described as “tense.”
I don’t for one minute doubt the facts of the story. It’s a nasty story that will unnerve parents everywhere. You wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, what bothers me is that those with an axe to grind against foxes, and animals in general, are already jumping all over this poor mother’s anguish. London Mayor Boris Johnson thundered, “We must do more to tackle the growing problem of urban foxes. They may appear cuddly and romantic but foxes are also a pest and a menace, particularly in our cities. This must serve as a wake-up call to London’s borough leaders, who are responsible for pest control.”
The first wake-up call surely goes out to Bromley council, who had left the mother without a working back door, certainly by her account. The family have, it seems, been rehomed by the council, but if it’s a council deficiency that caused a door not to be repaired or replaced then the real wake-up call goes to the Government, who are decimating council budgets up and down the country in order to pay for their rich friends’ lifestyles and various colonial military adventures.
It’s essentially a tabloid story (and you have to admire their cheek with the way the photo of the poor baby is telescoped so that its injury looks as big as another baby), but well done to the Telegraph for this added flourish: “A child’s red pair of shoes and a deflated football remained in the front garden of the end of terrace property.” A neighbour, Khadine Peters, 36, was doorstepped by the eager Telegraph reporter, said, “I wasn’t there at the time, I was walking home down the street when I saw the ambulance outside the house.” Not much use as a witness, then. However, she had an opinion. “I definitely won’t leave my back door open again. Something needs to be done about all these foxes roaming freely around all these homes. They’re disgusting, they’re not cute pets, they’re vermin. The council should get rid of them.” (Who, by the way, leaves their back door open, and unmonitored? It’s the 21st century. A burglar is more like to come in than a fox.)
Thankfully, we heard from a spokeswoman for the RSPCA, who said the only reason that a fox would ever attack is due to fear, adding, “It’s extremely unusual for foxes to attack young children or anyone. It’s not typical fox behaviour at all. Foxes will come closer to a house if there are food sources.”
The truth is, like it or not, we share our cities with animals, including foxes, and it can’t be long before we hear the c-word: cull. Cull the foxes! Cull the badgers! Cull the deer! (It sounds a bit like “kill” but it’s more socially responsible.) People who live in towns are mad for culls. They resent wildlife encroaching upon territory they have helpfully marked out as their own by putting up fences and gates and walls around. How dare “disgusting” animals fail to recognise that boundary? (Any cat owners ever observed a cat when a door in the house it expects to be open is closed? Ours just sits there and looks at it, until somebody opens it. Animals do not recognise physical boundaries. At best, they confuse them. At worst, they frustrate and irritate them.)
What do urban foxes live off? Food we throw away and leave outside. We feed them. That’s why they thrive. If I were a fox, I feel certain I could live off the food that various householders round my way leave out on refuse-collection day, because they helpfully put it out the night before, not in a bin, but protected by a special fox-deterring meniscus of thin black plastic called a bag. (On my Monday morning walk to the shop for my newspaper, I measure out my progress by the torn-open bin bags containing fragrant leftover food. Oh, and our bin collection occurs after breakfast, so putting it out the night before in exposed bags is nothing short of stupid.)
Assuming it’s adults who leave the bin bags out, then why not cull them? Cull the parents! Cull the idiots!
I don’t have a newborn baby. If I did, I would not leave doors and windows open, which is usually the way when babies are attacked by foxes. And yet, nobody ever blames the parents. (Me? I always blame the parents!) It would be a preposterous and unthinkable idea to cull people. So would culling foxes because they inconvenience us, and expose our slovenly habits, and our knackered infrastructures. We have to learn to live together. Either that, or stop feeding the animals. (It always amazes me how bloodthirsty some people are. You may or may not remember “WHY I HATE SQUIRRELS!”, the SCREAMING Daily Mail manifesto in 2010 for urban blood sport and the judicious use of the back of a spade by the obviously-bullied Quentin Letts, which I wrote about here, at the time.)
There’s an urban fox attack every couple of years. That’s a lot of foxes not attacking a lot of babies in the interim. It’s rare. They are not hunting for babies. They are trying to survive. When we get hungry, we go to a shop and buy a thing that somebody else has made for us in a factory. When an animal gets hungry, unless it’s one of our pets, it goes to forage and hunt for food, wherever it can find it. We sometimes get in the way with our fences and a our plastic bags and our broken doors and our babies’ hands.
Food refuse in our area is picked up separately each week from fox/gull proof mini green bins . . . seems to be working.
I figured it was a clever ploy by the upper-classes to ultimately get public opinion behind fox hunting.
Absolutely spot on, Andrew, as ever. My immediate reaction was, ‘where were the parents and why was an unattended baby near an opened back door?’. The “all these foxes roaming freely around all these homes” quote is priceless. However, having observed the rapidly mounting hysteria about this over the past couple of days, the biggest surprise is that the ‘media’ have not yet managed to crowbar in a horsemeat link yet…
I have to agree with you Andrew. While the incident would be scary for the parents, the tabloid press love this type of story. They will make the most of it. As i’ve noticed in the past week there’s not been a lot of headline news for the Sun. As the likes of Gazza has appeared quite a lot lately. As you say the local council should be brought to book about the broken door.
About a year or so my council started dishing out food waste recycling bins – plastic caddies which are animal proof. After that the number of fox attacks on my black bags increased from one every few months, to weekly. No doubt the foxes are more desperate for food. I now only put out my black bags in the morning. I note that Bromley also have food waste recycling. This makes me believe we should cull councils! Also now I know this, I now fear a fox attack on my baby more than ever. I better cull myself.
[Vague aside – my council won’t allow more fox-resistant wheelie bins as they are uncouth. Streets full of the contents of fox shredded black bin bags are, it seems, not.]
Agree re the urban hysteria re foxes, but far more babies are injured or killed at the hands of their parents than foxes. On t’other hand, foxes are not cute and lovable – if you’d seen what they can do to a henhouse (decapitation, no taking for food) ………….
Round here the food caddy stays in the house. You line it with a biodegradable bag that goes (sealed) into the garden waste bin when it’s full. We have three wheelie bins. You sometimes see black bags outside shops, or tucked under the lid of a wheelie bin. But I haven’t seen a black bag on the street outside someone’s house for years. Or an urban fox. I blame newspapers who campaign against wheelie bins and the idea that adults should be expected to dispose of their waste responsibly.
We must do more to tackle the growing problem of urban Borises. They may appear cuddly and romantic but Borises are also a pest and a menace, particularly in our cities.
I just don’t understand why everywhere doesn’t have proper bins. When I lived in London, it was like living in the past – black bags ripped up by cats, birds, and foxes (and of course, careless humans who left them in the street in the first place). Could it be because wheelie bins are so horrible to look at? I’m sure that was a Daily Mail campaign…
You cannot blame animals for eating food that is left in the street, nor for looking for food when they can smell someone’s kitchen.