We noticed the mange several weeks ago but, at the time, just didn’t recognize what it was. I saw the foot-long white strip stretching down his left side as he ran through the back yard; I foolishly concluded that this was a very old fox. Within just a few days, the white had covered his backside.
“Dave,” I said to my husband, “You know that weird fox with the white I told you about? That’s mange! Remember we read they’re prone to mange?”
We read up on mange in fox populations. “What do we do now?” we asked each other.
It turns out that the average Joe Blow can treat the mange in a wild fox population. It’s iffy. It’s dicey. It’s not quick. It’s not even sure. But if Joe can do it, so can Dave and Dinah.
We were to buy a bottle of Ivermectin, an injectable medication to be used “in swine.” Why don’t they just say “pigs?” Now don’t go conjuring up images of Dave holding down a fox while I give him a shot–No, the idea is that you take a syringe and draw up the Ivermectin from the bottle and then you shoot it into some fox-worthy food. You set up a feeding station and feed the fox Ivermectin-laced dog food, or hot dogs, or cooked chicken every three days.
Mangy foxes tend to get closer to humans and the buildings that humans live in. The mangy fox also hangs around in the daytime, which is unusual for the nocturnal animals. I need to talk to whoever wrote that article because he obviously does not know our foxes here on the ravine. Our foxes are unafraid to sprint across the back yard or trot across the street when the sun is out. This spring, Mama Fox brought all the babies out to play every day about 10 AM. Mangy foxes seek shelter and warmth and easy food supply. This daytime proximity provides a good chance to target the sick fox because, after all, you’re not really sure that the fox is going to get the medicine if you don’t see him eat the treated food.
Once we committed by buying the Ivermectin, we were in for the long haul. Let me describe the setbacks. Let’s start with buying the Ivermectin. After all, that’s when the first obstacle appeared.
There’s a coop in Franklin. There’s a TSC in Franklin. There are two TSC’s in Murfreesboro. So I could order from the internet or I could drive a few miles to the nearest farm supply store.
I met my friend Peggy at the TSC on the south side of Murfreesboro at 8 AM. We were off to our writers group meeting at 9:30 that morning and, since she raised Sussex Spaniels and assorted other mammals for years and years, Peggy was familiar with both the drug and the store. She thought I needed help and I was sure I needed help.
“No,” the clerk told us, “We’re out of the 0.27 percent for pigs and it looks like we’re discontinuing it. We do have the 1 percent for cattle and horses.”
“Oh dear,” I said, “I think I better get the 0.27 percent. I only have to draw up 5 millimeters for each dose and I’m not sure I could draw up such a tiny amount to compensate for that larger concentration…”
“We have another store on the other side of town. Would you like me to call over there and see if they have it?”
“That would be great. I’m going that direction.” Peggy had told me that there was another store on the other side of Lou’s house, where we were headed for our meeting. The other store had one bottle and they had reserved it for me.
“Follow me,” Peggy said as we hit the parking lot. When I started discussing the merits of following versus riding with her, she took charge. “No, just get in the car with me. We’re wasting time …”
“I’ll call Lou and tell her we’re going to be late,” I said.
The bottle of medicine was at the cash register. The clerk asked me if I had a syringe. I told him I kept a supply as we give Murphy (the Shih-tzu) an allergy shot every Sunday night. He said he was just going to say that I could pick up a syringe at any pharmacy since I was in a hurry.
I found out, on the first try, that Murphy’s syringes were too small to draw up the thick Ivermectin.
I stopped by Walgreens – on my next trip out of the house – to pick up prescriptions and, as the assistant asked, “You want this on your Express Pay?”, said I was going to need a “syringe with a big fat needle like for penicillin.”
“What are you going to use it for?” she asked.
“ Ivermectin,” I said. “For foxes.”
“You’re going to give a fox a shot.”
“No,” I said. “You put it in their food.”
“You’ll need to bring in your medicine and let us look at it, okay?” she said.
I nodded. “The stuff is very thick,” I started to explain.
She interrupted me gently. “But we can’t sell you a syringe without knowing, um, what, um…”
“Ahhhhhhh. What I’m going to do with it. I mean, you need to be sure….”
“Okay. Okay. I see.”
The medicine was in the van but so was my dad and he was hungry for lunch. I had agreed to make a Walmart run with Mom later anyway so we headed for home.
After lunch, Mom and I met at the van. I figured I’d just take the Ivermectin in to the Walmart pharmacist. No need to make a second trip to Walgreens.
“This is Ivermectin,” I said to the Walmart pharmacy assistant. “I need a syringe with a needle big enough to get this stuff out in order to shoot it onto dog food.”
“Is that an injectable?” she asked as she took the bottle. “Can you take the top off?” she asked and handed it back.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve tried. See if you can do it.”
She took the bottle, twisted the neck and called for the pharmacist.
“Did they not sell you a syringe to go with it?” he asked, turning – and turning – the cap.
“I was in a hurry and I thought I could get one later. Actually, I thought one that I have for our dog might work but this stuff is too thick. – You can’t get it off, either?”
“I can’t see how you get it off. I’ve never seen this before. Where are the instructions?”
“They’re in the box but the sheet only tells about the medicine itself. Doesn’t say a thing about how to get the lid off.” (I was NOT going to the van to get the piece of paper with the four-point font which had already half-blinded me.)
“I can’t do it,” he said. “Rick, come here a minute. Have you ever seen this?”
Rick, the second pharmacist, took the bottle. He thumped it, he twisted the lid, he shook it. “I think you should take it back to the store. They should be able to help you.”
The pharmacy assistant had been standing by quietly to the side of her two bosses. The first three people in the line behind me had staggered themselves to better watch the drama. “So do you still want these syringes?” the assistant asked.
“Yes,” I said, and swiped my card and signed the ticket for $2.78.
I’m sure I heard the man in second position utter, “Finally,” just as my cell phone rang.
“I’m finished shopping,” Mom said. “Are you ready to go? I’ll be waiting on this bench right inside the door.”
“I’ll only be a minute. I have to get the canned dog food,” I answered. I headed for the grocery section on the opposite side of the superstore.
Back in the van, nine heavy bags of groceries loaded (only one of them mine), I said to Mom, “We’re going to have to go to Brentwood to see the vet. Nobody can get the top off this bottle.”
“Oh, that’s fine. I’m not in a hurry. But I have ice cream.”
“Did you put it in an insulated bag?” I asked.
“No, but it’s down in there between some other cold stuff. It’ll be okay,” she said. “Can’t believe I had eight bags. I didn’t think I had to get much.”
I explained the problem to Wendy, Dr. Sullivan’s assistant. Wendy is always helpful.
“He’s on the phone. But let me try it,” Wendy said.
And then, after her brief turn at fiddling with the bottle cap, she laid it down on the counter and said, “He’ll be off the phone in a minute.”
Dr. Sullivan has been our vet for fourteen years. He’s a cheerful man.
“Hmmmmmmm. This is for one of those automatic syringe systems. I don’t know if I can help you. Now we keep Ivermectin here, of course, but we buy the small vials of 1%. That’s what we use. … Now how did they get this on here? I can feel the rubber underneath this cap so I know you’re supposed to take the cap off…”
“Maybe I should just go back to TSC,” I said as Dr. Sullivan handed the bottle to me. “Maybe there’s something wrong with this bottle cap.”
“Yeah… unless… Hey, let me see if one of the large animal guys is in the office over in Nolensville. He’ll know this stuff. If I can’t describe it to him, we’ll just scan the bottle and send him a picture!” Dr. Sullivan was downright pleased with himself – and I was, too. “Let me see that thing again.”
And, as he took the bottle from me, he pushed on the side of the cap and it shot across the front desk. Wendy dodged.
“You almost got me!” she said.
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“I don’t know – but it’s off!” he said. “I’m so glad I could help you.”
We all laughed and I picked up my keys from the counter and put the medicine in my purse.
“Oh yeah, another question. What happens if a neighborhood cat or dog gets this Ivermectin? We have this feral cat. And some raccoons.”
“Well.” Dr. Sullivan paused and leaned on the counter. “They won’t have mange.”
I thanked him, thanked Wendy, and left, almost skipping out to the handicapped parking space where I had left Mom parked in the van with a window rolled down.
“Can we go home now?” Mom asked. “I need to get that ice cream in the freezer.”
“Sure. And I can feed those foxes some Ivermectin,” I said.
Treet, the poor man’s Spam. I would have bought dog food, intended to buy canned dog food, but I looked for it in groceries at Walmart and the dog food was in pet supplies which was on the far side of the superstore – right next to the pharmacy that I had just left. Treet. Foxes like Treet, I convinced myself. And it’s probably as cheap as dog food.
The new syringes didn’t work any better than what I already had, but I pulled and cajoled and, ever so slowly, drew up 5 ml of the thick liquid and shot it into some Treet.
I mixed a few spoonfuls of treated Treet with a slice of stale bread and old chicken from the freezer and covered it with some canned beef gravy. I wondered if I should have warmed the gravy.
Our calico mama feral cat didn’t care whether the food was heated or not. Neither did two fat raccoons. I didn’t see a fox.
“I thought you were supposed to only give the medicine to them every three days,” Dave said as I wielded a skinny needle again the next evening.
“What he said was if you know for sure that the fox is eating it, then you only have to give it every three days. Otherwise, you have to put some in all the food you give them,” I said.
“I thought you were going to get some bigger needles,” he said.
“I am. I’ll stop by Walgreens tomorrow morning. Walmart said those were the biggest ones they had.”
There was a different pharmacist at Walgreens on Thursday. I brandished the big bottle of Ivermectin.
“Ohhhhh,” he said, “That’s going to take a penicillin needle.”
“Yes,” I said quickly, “That’s exactly what I need!”
“We don’t have any.”
I gave him my blankest stare.
“Think about it – who gives themselves a penicillin shot?” he asked.
I sighed. Just a small one, though. “Oh. What do you think I should do?” I asked.
“If I were doing it, I think I’d just break the top off the plastic bottle and pour it all into another bottle and use a medicine dropper. I mean, you’re not going to inject it, you said, right?” He reached behind him and handed me a big brown plastic bottle and a medicine dropper for infants.
“Great,” I said. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” he answered over his shoulder as I stood at the counter waiting to pay.
“There’s no charge,” he added.
“Well, well … thank you,” I said and left the store.
I just couldn’t break the top off the bottle. What if I did contaminate the stuff? What if it ruined in the brown plastic bottle and I didn’t know it and I fed it to the foxes and the cat and the raccoons and they all died? What if I spilled it? How much sanitizing would I need to do to that medicine dropper in-between applications? No. I just couldn’t do it that way.
Saturday night, I would go to book club in Murfreesboro.
“Dave,” I said at breakfast, “I’m going to go to book club early. Peggy and I are meeting at Starbucks at four to visit and before that I’ll make a swing by TSC to get a needle for this Ivermectin.”
“Oh, that reminds me, your dad said the fox was out at the compost bin yesterday and they gave him some bread. I told him you’d give him some treated meat to put with anything they give him to eat.”
“Good idea. We’ve got to get that medicine in him some way.”
“So do we have some leftovers?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I’ll put the Ivermectin into that Treet I bought. I’ll fix some up and you can take it over to Mom and Dad and they can keep some in the refrigerator. You know, I need to shoot up some wieners with Ivermectin for Don to use, too.” (Don, our neighbor, likes to throw out treats of cut up hot dogs. This may as well be a community project.)
Dave changed my course. “I mean ‘leftovers for me.’ I have to plan my dinner, you know. You are eating dinner at book club, right? Don’t you have to take something? What are you taking?”
“Olive salad and pita bread.”
“What else is in the refrigerator? Maybe I’ll just have a hot dog.”
“Oh yeah,” the young clerk at TSC said when I showed her my biggest syringe, “You need a small syringe and a big needle. There’s no way you can draw up that stuff with something that tiny.”
She mixed and matched the plastic syringes and the needles, weeding out the packages that had been opened.
“Looks like you have a problem with people opening these packages,” I said.
“Yeah, this aisle is a constant challenge,” she answered and handed me a bag of syringes and a bag of needles.
“This should work fine,” she said. “And if it doesn’t, just bring them back and I’ll trade them out for something that will.”
I said “Thanks,” but I really wanted to tell her, “This better work.”
Sarcoptic mange, in the last stages, is fatal. The animal’s immune system is compromised and internal parasites begin to take over and absorb any nutrients that the fox may find. Mangy foxes are usually starving in the last stages. Sometimes, because of the fur loss and the infected skin, the fox will die of hypothermia. If the weather is unusually hot and the fox can’t find good shelter, he might die of hyperthermia.
“Grammy, what is that for?” Jameson, my six-year-old grandson pointed to the Ivermectin bottle on the shelf in my office.
“It’s medicine for the mangy fox,” I answered.
“Is he all better now?” Jameson asked.
“I don’t think he is,” I answered.
“Did you see him yesterday?” he asked.
“No. I saw him last week. I’ve only seen him one time since we bought the medicine. I’m afraid we’re going to lose him.”
“Well, Grammy, how about the other foxes? Are you going to give them the medicine?” he asked.
“For how long?”
“Well, for a long time. Maybe forever,” I answered.
“Hm. I hope it works. They look like little red dogs,” Jameson said.