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Keep Calm and Carry on Sabbing

Paul originates from Liverpool, it was in his home city that he first started working for Freshfields Animal Rescue in 2013. “I got the job at Freshfields doing maintenance work in Liverpool” Paul recalls. Four years on and he has amassed over 55,000 followers and a persona to boot from his base in the village of Ince Blundell in Northern east England. The Fox Man posts pictures and updates on foxes that have been referred to him or rescued by him, he then treats them to the best of his ability and when healthy, releases them into the wild. But before The Fox Man, there was just Paul, Paul McDonald, an 18-year-old activist who joined up with The Hunt Saboteurs.

Paul’s passion for foxes is long standing, in his youth he was a part of the The Hunt Saboteurs Association, an anti-blood sport organisation who directly get involved, by way of disrupting in any way they legally can, a fox hunt. Sadly this organisation has got a lot of unwarranted and unfair negative media attention. Paul recalls a fellow hunt sab friend of his, who in the 1990’s was pinned down by Hunters, who then proceeded to crush the defenseless man’s leg with a huge rock, breaking that leg. With just a hint of a smirk, Paul casually mentions that friend is still an active hunt saboteur to this day. Paul, who is now 33-years-old commented on the irony, when he was involved in the hunt sabs, they were very much the ones in the “wrong”, at least as far as the law was concerned. He was part of a group actively disrupting, at the time, legal activities. However now, Hunt sabs find themselves seeking criminal convictions against hunt masters. This is a complete shift in the dynamic.

To actually secure a criminal conviction against an illegal hunt is notoriously difficult. Paul explained that the act needs to be caught on camera, and that you need to be able to see the hunt master as well as the hounds and fox all in the same wide angle shot. This of course has proven much to be a big advantage to the hunt masters. Another issue with the hunting ban, formerly “The Hunting Act 2004”, is it leaves many in the public, woefully uninformed about the realities of fox hunting. The act more specifically bans the use of hounds in the blood-sport.

However animal activist groups such as The Hunt Saboteurs are adamant the practice is still an ongoing issue, and this includes Paul, who recalls a litter of bagged foxes found down the road from a hunt masters hound kennel. A bagged fox refers to foxes, either cub or grown, kept in captivity with the sole intention of being released on certain days of the year for a hunt. This of course directly contradicts the claims of fox hunters and their advocates that what they do is pest control, it is nothing more than blood-sport. Paul’s expertise did not lie in veterinary work. Indeed he is the first to admit that he is “Constantly going to other animal rescue agencies for advice” - “Veterinary is not my background, I’m learning as I go along, mainly from fox projects and the national fox welfare society” He in-fact started out working maintenance for Freshfields animal rescue. Paul elaborates on how ‘The Fox Man’ persona came to be. “I asked the manager if I could take in foxes too, if I managed it in my own time” this led to relocations and the gradual building upon of his work load and what his responsibilities were, in the end it led to a lifelong dedication to first the protection of foxes and now the rescue and care of foxes.

In terms of the foxes Paul most commonly treats, the main problem is ‘Fox Mange.’ Paul explains how a mite burrows under the skin of the host fox and reproduces at a staggering rate. If left untreated, the fox would likely die of dehydration. Foxes are usually kept for up to three weeks, time enough to administer an injection that kills the adult mites, a second injection to kill the eggs of the mites and a third one to be sure. It’s always a great feeling for The fox man to release a fox back into the wild. While he does have them in, he takes the opportunity to take pictures to share to his many followers, people watch and read the updates of a Fox which is often named via their electronic devices. One of the latest foxes Paul has helped, he named ‘Zena’ as he explains in graphic detail “She was almost completely bald from the mange and full of sores”. However he beamed a bright smile recalling how she had a thin layer of fur upon release back into the wild and was looking much healthier.

While Freshfields are still his employer, it is fair to assume on first glance that The Fox Man is its own charity. He explains it's now a full time job being The Fox Man, working five days a week. He recognises however that he is nothing without the support of the animal rescue community, and reveals he often has to seek advice from others, as it is something he has been teaching himself since he first suggested taking in foxes in his own spare time four years ago.

“Comments online do get emotional and people show a lot of support” Paul says, before adding “It’s not The Fox Man people love, it's the foxes”. He explains how people get emotionally invested in cases as they follow their pictures on social media, watching the foxes get better. If Paul is ever in need he puts out a message for help, a recent example was when he needed kitchen roll, “I got a year's supply... overnight, through Amazon wish list” Paul laughed.

Paul has moved on from his Hunt Saboteur days, and has transitioned into The Fox Man. He focuses on the foxes he knows he can save, with time, dedication and patience. The Fox Man is a safe haven for the ones lucky enough to be rescued by him. As he puts it “The fox rescue is more important to me now, there is no one else doing it”. He may be in a different location now but the mission is still the same; Fox Love.

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