On Dealing with Thieves

Yesterday I decided not to kill the fox who has been stealing chickens from us.

Sitting Fox
We have a staring contest.

I try to be careful of the reasons I find to kill anything. It’s easy to set oneself in direct opposition to any creature or person who thwarts one’s plans, but that’s not always the rational or ethical thing to do. After seeing one of the foxes yesterday morning, I wondered if I could bring myself to shoot it. My gut feeling was no, but I wasn’t sure why. And then, while driving with the family to go do our weekly shopping, I realized why.

We were driving down one of the 2-lane rural highways near our house–a relatively heavily traveled, fast road. As we hurtled down the road at about 60 mph, my husband and I saw a box turtle in the road. We didn’t hit it with any of our wheels, and had there not been traffic, we probably would have stopped so I could move it out of the road. Unfortunately, there was traffic–we were one in a line of cars–and worse, guy behind us, driving a great big late-model truck, deliberately swerved to hit the turtle. My husband and I were horrified (thankfully none of the kids saw it), and I was utterly livid as well. It was a completely senseless killing of another living creature. Not for food, not for protection, not to prevent destruction, not even for sport: it was killing just for the sake of killing. And unnecessary killing is at best ethically fraught, and at worst downright wrong.

The foxes (I know as of this morning that there are two, which explains their efficiency) are not waging war against me; they are not stealing my hens as a personal affront. They are stealing hens because that is what foxes do–they hunt birds and small mammals and eat them. This pair might even have some kits they’re trying to feed. While there are plenty of rabbits and quail for them, my hens have turned out to be low-hanging fruit, so it’s perfectly reasonable that the foxes would go for the bigger kills that take less effort.

Surprised Fox
The other fox, wondering if it should run.

The fact that they’re able to get to the hens is not because of their own cleverness, though (or, rather, not entirely–they do have a smart combo move they use to flush hens into the electronet where they can grab them). The fact that they’re able to get the hens is my fault. I haven’t adequately protected the birds–they’re not locked in the coop most nights, and some of them had taken to roosting in trees. With a minimum of effort, I could change this, confining the chickens at night when they’re sleeping anyway, and letting them out first thing in the morning, early, but later than the foxes hunt. I did that this morning, and surprised the foxes without losing any poultry. Since it’s my fault, why take it out on the foxes? Killing them won’t bring back the hens they’ve eaten. And how can it be ethical to kill the foxes for being foxes when I haven’t exhausted all my reasonable (and fairly simple) options for protecting the hens?

It simply is not. And because I do not want to find in myself kinship of any kind with the jerk in a truck who flattens box turtles, I cannot find it ethical to shoot the foxes unless there are no other ways to solve the problem.


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