It’s not an uncommon problem when you move to a new city: you don’t know anyone, feel like you don’t fit in, and the loneliness starts to affect your mental health.
Some people join a club or group, others get a pet…goldfish, a cat, or even a dog.
American post-grad student Laura Becherer, 28, wasn’t sure how to cope with an existence dominated by anxiety and depression – and then she bonded with foxes living in her back garden. A family of five have settled in the space in Glasgow’s west end, only half a mile from the University of Glasgow campus.
The fox family have changed Laura’s life by giving her something to look forward to every day, and now she’s settled in the city much better.
But she describes months coloured dark with depression when she moved from Wisconsin to Glasgow two years ago to be a doctoral student in creative writing. What she had expected to be an exciting adventure turned out to be a lonely journey.
“I am very introverted. I showed up in Glasgow with no place to live, and I barely had any money. I had no idea what I was getting into. In addition to this, my visa had been delayed, so I was a couple of weeks late starting the programme. I missed the orientation week, and I was really on my own.”
But one day on her way home from campus something caught her eye. Two glowing green eyes accompanied by a red furred body came into sight. The new neighbour playfully caught a peanut butter sandwich when Laura threw it in his direction.
She says she had a real feeling of joy when the animal got up on all four legs and looked her in the eyes. “It was lovely. I felt that we had connected in this very special way and that it was just this animal and I having a moment together. He was acknowledging me, and I was acknowledging him with mutual respect.”
Since then, the relationship has developed: “They made me feel like the flat I lived in was a home. I think the little spark of magical interaction on a semi-daily basis has been lovely and it’s a very comforting thing. The image of foxes in general has been some sort of a symbol of my life in Glasgow.”
Laura speaks about the fox family with a low, but enthusiastic voice filled with love. Her apartment is filled with fox figures. After she befriended the family, her friends and relatives started buying her artefacts portraying foxes.
“I have always been fond of foxes, I could watch them move and play for hours, and I do. They are so beautiful and purely intelligent.
“There is a tiny one that we have named Francis. I regularly make peanut butter sandwiches for them and leave them out, and while all the other kids are busy playing, Francis goes along and eats all of the sandwiches,” she says.
Although Laura keeps a safe distance from the animals in the back garden, they have done more than giving her something to look forward to every day. She says: “My personal and professional relationships have improved, and I feel like I fit in now. I’m healthier and happier, and I see these foxes as a symbol of all of those positive things versus how hard my life was before.”
While they are mostly common in the wild, the domestication of foxes began 55 years ago, and according to the mammal group at the University of Bristol, foxes are becoming common in many UK cities.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that foxes are the second most popular animals in Britain. Some individuals even keep them as pets. However, foxes are considered wild animals, and people are advised to leave them in the wild.
Laura says it is important to keep a distance from the foxes: “You can’t try to tame them because they’ll become domesticated over time. The problem with that is that they may approach other humans, and the humans could get scared even though foxes (rarely) attack humans.”
Some people find their presence a nuisance. Laura says: “There are certain animals in cultural contexts that get bad reputations. I have always been fond of foxes. They are so beautiful and purely intelligent, and they keep rats out of the garden.
“I think all creatures have the right to live on this earth, and it makes me really sad that people would rather kill foxes rather than making sure their bins are properly locked.”