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Coexisting In Harmony With Wildlife: Foxes, Raccoons, And Rabbits



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As the landscape in Newtown and surrounding towns continues to change, wild animals are being impacted and trying to adapt to their new environment as best they can. This can mean a variety of wildlife are venturing into areas they never have before — backyards, hiking trails, and busy roads — when searching for refuge or nourishment.

Residents are having close encounters so frequently that it is not uncommon for people to share photos of a bear investigating their bird feeder or a bobcat traveling across an unfenced yard. Many, too, are calling agencies to report wild animals injured on the side of the road or accidentally poisoned.

Springtime also means many animals are more visible as they are out and about gathering food for their growing families.

In a perfect world, animals would know the boundaries of what land is preserved for them and what is human-inhabited, but the reality is these creatures are just doing their best to survive.

In this miniseries, The Newtown Bee will consult animal experts to explain how to support these animals safely from afar and what to do if you encounter them face-to-face.


In Connecticut, there are two species of foxes: the red fox and the gray fox.

The red fox, as you can imagine, gets its name because of its reddish-colored coat. It also has a long bushy tail with a white tip as well as black legs and ears. Likewise, a gray fox has a gray-colored coat with a white belly and chest, but sometimes its fur can appear red on its ears and neck. A quick way to differentiate between the two is that a gray fox does not have a white tip on its tail.

Foxes can sometimes be mistaken for coyotes in the wild, but a way to tell the difference is that foxes have longer tails that stay horizontal to their bodies when they run.

It is in a fox’s nature to run and flee from a situation instead of being confrontational. If someone encounters a fox in their yard or while out on a walk, foxes can be easily scared away by making loud noises, such as yelling or blowing a whistle.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), foxes are omnivores that eat “small rodents, squirrels, woodchucks, rabbits, birds and eggs, amphibians, and reptiles. Foxes also will eat vegetation, fruits, nuts, insects, carrion, and garbage. Red foxes may partially bury, or cache, excess food, cover it with soil, grass, leaves, or snow, and mark it with urine.”

Both species of foxes in Connecticut breed from January through March with a gestation period of 51 to 53 days and have litters with an average of four or five pups.

They dig burrows to live in, but also commonly utilize crawl spaces under sheds and decks for shelter.

“Most foxes have more than one den and will readily move their young if disturbed,” the DEEP reports. “The pups stay in the den until they are about four to five weeks of age, after which they emerge and begin to play outside the den entrance. Both adults care for the young by bringing food and guarding the den site. The pups are weaned at about 12 weeks and join the adults on hunting forays, learning to catch food on their own.”

Newtown Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason says that when residents typically call about foxes it is to express that a mother has had babies on their property.

“They don’t know it’s people’s houses,” Mason said about foxes. “They don’t stay long. If they have a family of kit foxes under their shed, just be patient. They’re going to eventually go off on their own. They are not going to hurt children or pets. Just be considerate. These parents are just trying to raise their kids like everyone else.”

While foxes mean no harm and are just looking for safety for their family, Mason warns they will defend their babies if an unleashed dog, or other animal they see as a predator, approaches them unexpectedly.

“They have one thing on their mind: to raise their babies. If they feel threatened, they will get aggressive,” Mason said.

Pet owners should be mindful that foxes are out and at all times of the day — especially at dusk and dawn — for their own pet’s protection and for the foxes’ safety.

Wildlife in Crisis, a volunteer-run nonprofit in Weston that cares for more than 5,000 injured and orphaned wild animals a year, including foxes, raccoons, and rabbits, posted to its Facebook page May 16 about an injured fox in its care.

“We have been inundated with injured and orphaned wildlife in recent weeks. Please give wild animals the space they need to raise their young. Many of the animals we receive are the result of domestic dog and cat attacks. Please supervise your dogs and keep cats indoors. Living harmoniously with our wild neighbors eliminates unnecessary suffering,” the post stated.

The DEEP notes that foxes frequently live close to human residences, and “can become accustomed to human activity but are seldom aggressive toward people... The mere presence of a fox should not be perceived as a problem and foxes need not be feared.”


Raccoons can be easy to identify due to their face markings that make them look like they have a black mask across their eyes and cheeks. They also have distinguishable black rings around their bushy tails and a long, pointed snout. Most weigh between ten and 20 pounds, similar to a plump house cat or small dog.

Unfortunately, raccoons have garnered a negative reputation due to their keen ability to adapt to any setting (suburbs, cities, you name it) and find a way to survive.

Raccoons are omnivores, and their resourceful nature can lead them to rummage for leftover food in people’s trash cans or recycling bins. They might also choose backyard chickens as a meal if given the opportunity.

Their ingenuity also leads them to choose a variety of places to call home.

“They make their dens in tree cavities, abandoned woodchuck or fox burrows, rock crevices, brush piles, chimneys, attics, sheds, and other structures,” DEEP lists.

Mason says that last year was particularly troublesome for raccoons in Newtown due to so many trees being cut down. With raccoons denning in trees, the deforestation caused mother raccoons to be so scared they fled for safety without their babies.

However, Mason recalled a case where she was able to monitor a situation where babies were believed to be abandoned and by not removing the babies immediately and giving it some time, the mother returned and took the babies.

“I knew the mother would come back, and she did, and moved the babies. Don’t be so quick to take the babies; the mothers will come get the babies,” Mason said.

Baby raccoons, like most creatures, are dependent on their mothers for survival, as males do not stay after breeding. Raccoons give birth to an average of four cubs per litter in April or May, and the babies are born blind and helpless.

Some people think if a raccoon is being a nuisance on their property, they should trap the raccoon, but ultimately this means an awful, slow demise for any babies now motherless.

Dara Reid, director and founder of Wildlife in Crisis, explained, “Trapping mother raccoons causes many babies to starve to death. Please do not trap raccoons.”

Raccoons are nocturnal and touted as carrying rabies or other diseases if spotted during the daytime, but that is a myth.

“Seeing a raccoon during the day, especially during spring and summer months, is perfectly normal. This does not mean that they are ill,” Reid said.

If people are worried about encountering a raccoon, there are a variety of harmless but effective scare tactics that can be implemented, such as yelling or using a blow horn, shining a strong light or strobe light on them, or setting up motion-detector sprinklers. Having a variety of methods handy is important as raccoons can grow accustomed to one and render it less effective.

Preemptive steps to avoid raccoons being attracted to your home include securing garbage and not leaving it out overnight, feeding pets indoors, closing off potential places for dens, and creating a predator-proof enclosure for chickens for day and night protection.


While pet owners can own a wide variety of domesticated rabbit breeds, there are only two species found wild in Connecticut: the native New England cottontail and the eastern cottontail.

Both species of cottontail rabbits have long ears and a short, fluffy tail that looks like a cotton ball, hence their name. They also have fur that varies from reddish-brown to grayish-brown with white bellies.

DEEP reports that the New England cottontail has had a reduction in populations, mainly due to habitat loss. As a result, the DEEP Wildlife Division has implemented a captive breeding program to release them into the wild, as well as different habitat enhancement projects, to help increase the population.

Rabbits breed from March through early autumn and can have two to four litters per year. Mother rabbits make a small depression in the ground in an area with dense grass for concealment for their nest. They line the nest with dry grass and fur.

This means that homeowners and landscapers need to be mindful of nesting rabbits and check the property before mowing or weed whacking the lawn. If not and there is a nest, it can be fatal for the rabbits.

“I know it’s very hard, but be considerate and walk along the perimeter of the fence to make sure that there are no rabbits on the ground,” Mason said.

DEEP reports, “Young rabbits are born blind, naked, and helpless but grow rapidly, leaving the nest after only two to three weeks. They are weaned and totally independent at four to five weeks. On average, 15% of the young will survive their first year.”

Rabbits have many predators on the ground and in the air, so it is important for everyone to do their part to help them survive. Methods that help save rabbits, as well as other wildlife, include keeping cats inside and dogs supervised outside, braking for animals when driving, and not putting out rodenticides and other harmful poisons. Even something as simple as leaving bushes and bramble along the perimeter of your property can help rabbits seek refuge from predators.

Aiding The Orphaned Or Injured

People can always call the Newtown Animal Control Center directly at 203-426-6900 to report any animal in need of help or call the Newtown Police Department at 203-426-5841, which will transfer the call over. When leaving a message for assistance, people should give a description of the animal and its location.

Newtown resident Joe Proc, of Fog Pocket Wildlife Shelter, is licensed to rehabilitate rabbits — as well as opossums, squirrels, mice, chipmunks, and many bird species. Newtown resident and wildlife volunteer Peter Mihok assists him.

“Ninety percent of rehab occurs in the spring and summer when babies are born and orphaned via road fatality, tree cutting, fertilizer poisoning, etc.,” Proc explained.

His lifelong partner, Gisela, also is licensed to rehab foxes, raccoons, and skunks.

The couple can be reached by e-mail at bongo-joe@sbcglobal.net for help with these specific animals.

Additionally, Wildlife in Crisis is licensed by the Connecticut DEEP and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to care for a wide variety of injured and orphaned wild animals, including foxes, raccoons, and rabbits.

To reach Wildlife in Crisis, call 203-544-9913 or e-mail wildlifeincrisis@snet.net. For more information about Wildlife in Crisis, visit wildlifeincrisis.org.

For a list of authorized rehabilitators (individuals and organizations) throughout Connecticut, visit portal.ct.gov/deep/wildlife/rehabilitator/dealing-with-distressed-wildlife.

Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Four raccoons gather on top of a deck railing and have a snack together. —Rhonda Cullens photo
Foxes dig burrows to live in and raise their young, but they also commonly utilize crawl spaces under sheds and decks for shelter. They will not stay long and are only trying to safely raise their children, like any other family. —photo courtesy Wildlife in Crisis
Raccoons are nocturnal but seeing them out during the day, especially during spring and summer months, is perfectly normal and does not mean that they are ill, according to Wildlife in Crisis founder and director Dara Reid.
A cottontail rabbit nears the steps of a home in Sandy Hook last summer as it scampers along through the yard. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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