It’s unfortunate, but exotic pets are becoming quite trendy these days, and in many places, they’re even legal and regulated! Despite this, most of these types of pets must be kept a secret. After all, it’s dangerous—and, likewise, illegal—to care for an animal that is not domesticated.
It’s still taboo even in places that allow exotic pets—and there are good reasons why. The owners of a sweet silver fox learned this the hard way after an anonymous caller reported them to animal control. Sadly, the situation escalated in ways they never would’ve imagined…
Tara Hiatt lived in Minot, North Dakota, with her husband, Eric. The happy couple were married in May of 2013, and shortly after, they decided to adopt a pet. They didn’t choose just any four-legged companion, though…
MayTheFoxBeWithYou / YouTube
Tara and Eric decided to adopt Vader, an adorable silver fox! He actually looked like some sort of unusual breed of dog. Even better: he had the personality of the most affectionate puppy, too!
maythefoxbewithyou / Tumblr
Despite the controversy surrounding exotic pet ownership, “exotic” wasn’t necessarily the right word for Vader. He “was bred specifically for his tameness and affinity for humans,” Tara wrote on the fox’s popular Tumblr page.
Vader was kept as a house pet, and he was loved by his owners just as much as any other traditional or conventional pet, like a dog or a cat, would be. Thankfully, pet foxes are legal in North Dakota, so the town didn’t have any issues with the couple owning one.
Bobak HaEri / Wikimedia Commons
Vader even had a best friend: Athena, the couple’s chihuahua! Since the little fox couldn’t leave his home except when absolutely necessary, Vader’s house really was his entire world.
Ever since he was first brought into the Hiatt family as a kit, Vader lived a happy, comfortable life. Not everyone in the neighborhood approved, but that didn’t stop the Hiatts from caring for Vader like any other pet.
Like any pet, Vader required regular checkups with the veterinarian. Other than that, Tara said, he rarely left their house. He could’ve gotten into danger or been harmed if not in Tara and Eric’s sight for too long, so they kept him close.
skeeze / Pixabay
Vader didn’t seem to mind hanging out indoors, though! He was safe, warm, healthy, and happy—and that was all that mattered. He even got to dress up and ham it up for the camera!
Vader had little in common with his villainous namesake, but Tara did joke that her little ball of fur possessed a “mischievous dark side.” And while she admitted that owning a fox was a challenge, to her, it was worth it.
That’s why it was a shock when Tara started to receive anonymous—and strongly-worded—messages threatening to report Vader as a vicious animal. Tara was stunned, but since there was no evidence of him posing any sort of threat, she didn’t think she had anything to worry about. Vader was harmless and he’d never had an incident.
Then one night, animal control officers and local police showed up at the family’s door. Without a warrant, they tried to take Vader from the home. Apparently, the officer disregarded instructions on how to properly handle Vader, and the terrified fox nipped at him.
That didn’t help Vader’s case; officers told Tara they’d received an “anonymous bite report.” Considering the fact that Vader never left the house, this seemed both unlikely and suspicious to Tara. Still, there was nothing she could do, and he was taken to an animal hospital.
Vader was in new and frightening surroundings, but the staff at the animal control center reported that he wagged his tail whenever they fed him. He was also very friendly with everyone who interacted with him.
Still, Tara was utterly heartbroken. She made calls to the North Dakota Board of Animal Health, the Department of Health, and the local police department. “Had the police simply asked me to remove Vader from the city, I would have gladly done so,” she said.
All three of the agencies Tara contacted assured the worried owner that, because there was no proof of punctured flesh in the reported incident, Vader would be safe from harm…
The authorities claimed that Vader was simply being held temporarily in order to make sure that he wasn’t exhibiting any signs of contagious diseases. At the time, it may have seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation, until it all went wrong…
Mere hours after that conversation, and despite everything that Tara had been told (and had reason to believe), the police showed up at her door with Vader’s collar in hand. Then, they delivered heartbreaking news: Vader had been euthanized.
Tara was devastated. “Vader gave me a drive and a purpose in my life that I had never had before. I loved him like he was my child,” she said. “Our house is quiet, and our baby is gone. There is nothing heavier than the empty collar that sits in my hands.”
As it turned out, Vader had been euthanized without as much as a hearing and without proper medical screening. The owner hadn’t even received a warning before the authorities went through with it. It all seemed like poor communication.
Tara was not going to give up. She launched a petition to appeal Vader’s case. She also kept his Tumblr page active “as a tribute to him and to answer any questions potential fox owners may have,” she wrote.
While Tara and Eric couldn’t undo the pain they suffered, at least they could relive Vader’s memory. It seemed like a tragic situation that could have been prevented with better communication.
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