Mike Bonanni, Staff Writer
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.