URBAN FOXES are fast becoming a predatory menace dog owners have been warned, following attacks on puppies in two different parts of the country last week. Three young West Highland Terrier cross puppies were killed on a farm in South Yorkshire, their throats torn in a savage attack by a fox. The incident, one of a spate of such attacks, has been attributed by vets to increasingly bold "urbanised" foxes which have lost their fear of humans and dogs.
The terriers' owner, Donna Clarkson, who runs a farm in South Yorkshire with her husband Sean, said the puppies were eight and a half weeks old. She had been woken at 1am by "panicked" barking. "I got up and ran down to our yard to hear my puppies screaming, the most agonising sound I have ever heard," she said.
"I could hear something inside their kennels. I walked in to find a fox climbing out. It stopped and looked me straight in the eye then ran off. Three puppies were dead, mutilated, with their throats ripped out in a total blood bath, and the others were terrified. I have never in my life seen anything so horrific and evil. One of the five remaining puppies had been mauled and was covered in puncture wounds.
Mrs Clarkson said that the fox appeared utterly fearless and totally determined to reach its chosen prey: "To get to the puppies, the fox had walked past our 58 chickens and 15 other dogs, mainly Spaniels and Weimaraners, which were in the barn and all barking like crazy. It was so bold."
The killings shocked other owners. Shirley Hooper, the secretary of the West Highland White Terrier Club of England, said: "I have never heard of anything like this before. Highland Whites are a feisty breed, bred to chase down rabbits, but as puppies they would be pretty helpless. This news is certainly worrying for owners. Up to now our main worry when dogs disappeared was that they had been stolen."
In another such attack last month, a nine-week-old foxhound puppy was taken from its pen by a fox at the Hampshire home of Bob Collins. The fox leapt a five and a half foot fence to reach the hound.
Mr Collins, the Huntsman for the Hampshire Hunt, witnessed the attack. "It was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen. I had five nine-week-old puppies in a wire pen outside and I never dreamed that they would be in any danger from foxes. At about 2am one night I heard an awful noise from outside. I looked out and saw a fox pop over the chain-link fence. It grabbed the largest of the litter and made off.
"We found its remains the next day over the field. They only amounted to a part of the puppy, a leg and other bits, as the rest had been eaten. I suspected the fox would come back the next night for more, and I was right. But I had brought the puppies inside."
The attacks mark a worrying escalation in attacks by foxes on people and their pets. David Denny, a Worcestershire-based vet and an expert on foxes, said the attacks on dogs were extremely unusual but did not surprise him.
He said: "Foxes are becoming increasingly bolder and losing their fear of humans and everything else due to increased contact with them in cities. My fear is that the next thing we hear of will be a baby snatched from a pram."
Urban foxes have been known to attack vulnerable human beings, including a baby and a fully grown adult man. Last year, a fox mauled 14-week-old Louis Day in his home in Dartford, Kent. Louis, who was grabbed by the fox as he lay sleeping with his mother on a sofa, was rescued by his father Peter. He recovered after hospital treatment.
Campaigners for fox welfare claimed the attack was a one-off, probably by a "brain-damaged" animal. But other reports have confirmed that foxes are getting bolder, particularly in urban areas. In a recent incident in Glasgow, a pack of foxes turned on a man when he fell while chasing them from a residential street.
A spokesman for the RSPCA said: "We are not aware of any attacks by foxes upon dogs but, as a rule, foxes are shy and will only attack if cornered or desperately hungry. You do get rogue foxes occasionally, just as you get rogue humans."