Fox Shot on SUCO Campus

photo courtesy of Jaimie Hajduk

Mike Bonanni, Staff Writer

photo courtesy of Jaimie Hajduk

   There has recently been an uproar on the SUNY Oneonta campus surrounding the death of a fox. On September 17, reports of University Police shooting a fox on campus near Wilsbach Dining Hall traveled through social networks like Facebook. The reports would eventually wind up on the popular Facebook page, “Oneonta Internet Memes,” where a debate amongst the students was held in the comments. These comments were on a picture using the “Bad Luck Brian” Internet meme with a superimposed picture of a generic fox’s head replacing “Brian’s.” The picture’s caption reads, “Wins hearts of SUCO students, shot by UPD.”

   Many secondhand reports and rumors were spread throughout campus following the event. Student witnesses Adena Ruchames and Amanda Pizzicarola were sitting at a picnic table near Blodgett Hall when it happened. “One of the dining hall ladies came up and said ‘Come look at this fox!’,” said Ruchames. The girls didn’t move, but watched as officers shined flashlights at the fox. Eventually, an officer came up to them and explained the situation saying “The fox doesn’t look well,” that “it isn’t rabies, but we need to put it out of its misery.” After they moved, a single gunshot was fired. After the first, the fox yelped and a second shot was fired. Jenna Sickler, a close friend of the witnesses, was one of the individuals who debated on the “Oneonta Internet Memes” post. She believed that the situation was not professionally handled. “What if a student had run to help it? They should have handled it off campus,” said Sickler. Another friend, Ilana Moskowitz, wondered if it was well planned and whether the UPD weighed their options. “I didn’t understand the motive,” said Moskowitz.

   According to Tech. Sgt. Nate Leonard, who personally fired the shots and Officer Skovira of the University Police Department, the station dispatch received three calls about a fox running around the Wilsbach, Matteson and Blodgett Hall area near the parking lot. Leonard pulled up in a car while Skovira and one other officer came on bike patrol. Once he arrived, Leonard recalls seeing three employees in the parking lot. He asked if they had seen the fox and the employees told him where, pointing to the wooded area by Wilsbach. The officers found the fox lying against a “natural rock wall” in the “fetal position.” As Leonard approached the fox, he noticed its sickly appearance. It was not attempting to flee from the officer and “it shouldn’t allow you to approach more than six feet,” said Skovira. “It would try to lift its head up and look at me, but it couldn’t open its eyes,” said Leonard. “The fur on its face was matted and ratty and didn’t look like the normal healthy foxes we’re accustomed to seeing.” He recounted that the employees who called it in also agreed that the fox looked unhealthy, as well as Ruchames who saw it from where she was sitting.

   In order to “dispatch” an ill or injured animal, Leonard explained that there is a procedure involved. “I called the supervisor and they said ‘If it appears ill and you have a safe shot, take the shot.’” There were also students around, sitting at a nearby picnic table. Skovira was sent to let them know what was about to happen and to ask them to move away. “They weren’t in danger,” Leonard said, “but the loud noise was going to startle them.” By the time they moved, two supervisors came on the scene for a total of five UPD personnel advising the situation. They too examined the fox and cleared Leonard, a trained hunter, to take the shot.

   As far as the motive to shooting the fox, the fox was not rabid or dangerous but suffering. UPD recently received at least 30 calls from concerned people. “We’re getting called to different foxes in different locations and every one that I have gone to …at least 10 myself …the fox has been healthy and [action has not been necessary],” Leonard said, “People automatically assume that because a fox is close to humans that it needs to be put down, it’s a danger. That’s not necessarily the case, …there was no doubt [the fox seen on campus] was not a healthy animal.” He explained, “it was a danger to itself …And it looked like a matter of time before it suffered and died on its own anyway.” As a part of procedure it was dispatched as humanely as possible.

   Despite tracking it through various reports over the summer and into the current school year, the fox couldn’t be trapped since the UPD does not have trapping equipment, kennels or tranquilizers. “I suppose [tranquilizers] would be more humane to some people,” said Skovira, “You have to have someone who is trained to dispatch the tranquilizer. In the long run, …it’s cost prohibitive …not that we’re saying the state is trying to be cheap, but this is quick and it’s humane …it’s something that’s done quick.”

   By observing the same sickly descriptor throughout the summer’s reports, they knew the animal was not rabid. Rabid animals often die within a few days. Animal control services would be expensive for the budget to cover for one fox and this was not the only fox on campus. On the accounts of both Skovira and Leonard, there was a mother fox who died giving birth on campus to four pups in the woods behind Golding Hall. The foxes are used to human contact now, as the campus was the only home they knew. The local animal control is provided only for dogs and cats.

   Leonard says that if other methods of dispatch were afforded, he would be welcome to them. However, since there were no other options at the time, the sergeant does not see anything he could have changed about the situation.

   After the UPD’s side was explained to Sickler and the witnesses, they felt much better about how it was handled given the circumstances. However, they felt that the followup was poor. The only ones informed about the event were the members of the Student Association; no email broadcast was made to students about why gunshots were heard on campus. Even though UPD has the jurisdiction to dispatch sick or injured animals, the witnesses believe UPD should be better prepared to handle animals in the future. They expressed understanding of the situation and that there are going to be more reports of animals on campus. “We just go to school in [their] environment.” Sickler said.

   Another anonymous student agreed with how the UPD proceeded even before hearing their side of the story. “There was only so much that they could have done,” said the student. He also made the point that they could not spend hours to inform students of the impending shots when it could allow for more people to gather. This also happened near the evening, so loss of light would have made the shot harder and moving the animal may have harmed the fox further, given its condition.

   UPD warns students that they should keep their distance from wild animals and refrain from feeding them. On another note, the only other fox that was shot happened over the summer, off campus with a similar set of sickly traits. The foxes were properly disposed of, and any other accounts of shooting animals on campus that spread after September 17 to present are false.


  1. If that’s the case that “the animal wasn’t well” then they should shoot the three legged Deer that comes on campus, right? Because if he only has three legs, then he is clearly not well.

  2. I can’t believe they shot the fox just like that. They should have called wildlife professionals, what if the fox could have been revived? It’s sickening the ease with which we will dispose of the life of a wild animal. I’m sure if it had been someone’s dog this would have played out differently. Sad

    • While the animal may have been revived with some medical treatment, doing so probably isn’t practical. Animal health care is expensive-I for one would rather see the money go towards a student who needs it than an animal who would likely suffer, even with treatment.

  3. The UPD acted accordingly given the nature of the situation. There’s no need to call in the DEC or any other “tree hugging” or “animal hugging” groups over one fox. For Upstate residents like myself, shooting sickly animals, especially foxes, are commonplace because they can easily become a threat to human health and safety. The dept. took the appropriate actions and I applaud them for what they did.

    • Jack- I agree. I am also from the upstate area, and it is more humane to kill the ill animal instead of letting suffer any longer. Calling in an outside source would have taken time for the contacts to be made and other professionals arrive, thus prolonging the animals agony.

      The three legged deer is different, it isn’t ill and is responsive to humans.

      UPD responded as they should have, and were doing their job.

  4. If the fox was not well, and did not seem to have rabies and also let you approach it, then they should have captured it and sent it to the SPCA or some sort of animal shelter to see if there was any way to help the animal. “Putting it out of its misery” was not the humane way to go, especially in public. Plus, this really doesn’t help Oneonta and its “hick” reputation.

    • Seriously, the ‘hick reputation’ you speak of only comes from peoples’ impressions of the locals. And these impressions are usually formed based on how entities not affiliated with the campus present themselves. The fact of the matter is, life happens. When the cost to taxpayers far outweighed the price of putting the fox down, there was clearly no other way to go about it. These are trained professionals; they know how to do their job. And just because Oneonta is upstate, don’t assume that these ‘hicks’ wouldn’t have reacted the same way as you to the matter.

  5. When an animal is sick and suffering, shooting it is the only humane option. The students can say what they want but judging by the comments they don’t seem to actually know anything about animals. Wild animals don’t get sent to the SPCA. Treating the animal would have cost $$$ and there’s a good chance that it would have died anyway. With tuition and fees going up nearly every year how could the school waste money on some wild animal? BTW, Oneonta doesn’t have a ‘hick’ reputation. That’s pretty uncalled for. If this was NYC the cops would have done the same thing. It’s easy for people to just say “UPD was wrong” when you clearly don’t understand the situation.

    Why is this news anyway? Wild animals are shot everyday for this and other reasons. The only reason this is news is because some students were bored of doing homework and figured bashing UPD would be fun. Grow up. As Yellowjacket said, the UPD did their job.

  6. As our Local friend says, animals are shot daily. They’re also hit by cars daily. Does this make us all awful people because we may run over Rocky the Squirrel or hit Bambi with our car every now and then? Doe is make nature (or God, or whatever) an asshole because animals die of natural causes daily?

    For those of you condemning the UPD’s actions as “inhumane” or “overkill,” wrap your heads around this: hunters in New York State shoot thousands of healthy deer every fall during hunting season; millions of cows, chickens, and pigs are butchered every year for our consumption. By your reasoning anyone who hunts or works in the meat packing industry is now inhumane. Hmmm.

    An unhealthy fox is a threat to the people on this campus and in the community. While the behavior of a healthy animal is typically easy to predict, the behavior of a sick or wounded animal is not. As others have said, treatment of the animal is simply not feasible. I’m sure people would feel differently if there were rumors of a wild animal threatening little Fluffy the cat and Patches the dog.

    Compassion is great, but not when it is paired with ignorance, as is the case here. “Rational Thinking” is kind of moot if you don’t have the proper knowledge and/or data of the topic at hand. This town doesn’t have the reputation of a hick town; if it does then those giving it that reputation would be in for a real lesson if they ventured into more rural parts of this state.

  7. The first time I saw that fox was in July. Its sickness was a topic of interest then too. That’s a substantial amount of time to call the appropriate people to come in and help it.

  8. I wasn’t under the impression that UPD were trained in handling wild animals. Their perception or judgement of an animal is not a professional one. This campus has enough money to renovate their buildings and create more dorms, but using the proper methods to handle wildlife is too expensive? We live in upstate NY; a variety of wildlife will come around once in a while, sick or not. They should’ve taken other precautions and not kill the fox because it seemed like the only option. We are not talking about chickens or other animals we kill to consume, it’s an entirely different issue when FARM animals are killed to satisfy our diet. Sure, there are accidental road kill mishaps and hunting is sadly allowable. If the fox was presumed ‘ill’, get a professional opinion. UPD is not trusted, repected or admired for any of their duties on campus because they’re power hungry. They tend to go to the extreme to subdue the problem & that is not a message SUNY Oneonta should support. It’s bullshit.

  9. Does anyone realize that the campus has made major cut backs in staffing in the past couple of years due to the economy?

    Also- hunting is a necessity, if- for example- deer hunting were not permitted in the area there would be an over abundance of deer, and many would starve to death. Which, in my opinion, would be a worse way to die.

    That is your perception of UPD. They are state police officers, not just campus security. They are trained to handle situations in a specific manor, an example being college students being drunk and destructive. If someone is resisting arrest, then they follow through with protocol. Maybe people should not be breaking the law, and then they won’t get into trouble.

    The real world will not coddle you, college is pretty darn close to the real world.

    Time to put your big kids pants on and grow up.

    Realize law enforcement is not your enemy, and stop boo hooing over an animal that was put out of its sick misery for the sake of everyone on campus’ safety.

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