Return to the Woods

Strong-willed and self-sufficient, Foxy arrived and departed on her own terms.
By Linda Defew, March 2009, Updated February 2015

Foxy was sitting in my husband’s lap when I got back from church that peaceful autumn morning. There they were, the two of them, on the front porch rocking in the wooden rocker, Foxy’s head hidden in the bend of his arm.

“Look what came to live with us,” he said with a smile.

“Don’t get attached, Eddie,” I said, as I walked up the porch steps. Our four-year-old Blue Healer, Yeti, had just died of a respiratory disease. Both of us were still reeling from that. Now, I wondered how he thought this little pup could ever take her place.

“Cowboy brought her while you were gone,” Eddie said. “He had heard about Yeti.”


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“Okay,” I said with raised eyebrows. “Let’s hear it.”

He held Foxy closer as he recounted the visit. “This pup was meant for you and the missus,” Cowboy had said, pulling the little sandy ball of fur out of his backseat. “This here’s Foxy.”

“Where did you come from, little girl?” Eddie asked, when Cowboy handed her over.  Foxy was timid and shaking, but as he held her close and talked to her, she calmed down.  Eddie has a way with animals.

“My dogs dragged her up out of the woods a while back. I’ve been lookin’ for her a good home ever since. First I thought they’d caught ’em a baby groundhog. Kinda looks like a Pam-a-nar-i-an, don’t she?”

Eddie smiled. He appreciated Cowboy’s down-home use of the English language. And, he was right. She looked like she might have a little Pomeranian in her, but from the size of her fur-covered paws, she was going to be a much larger dog. She looked a lot like some of the coyotes we had seen in the area.

Then, according to my husband’s story, Cowboy drove off without giving him a chance to refuse. Knowing Eddie’s love for animals, I was skeptical.

“Linda, say hello to Foxy,” Eddie said as I studied her from a distance. Her big brown eyes, wild as a wolf, looked away from me as if making eye contact would be too risky. She looked like a little red fox, cute as a button, and a sly one. Her eyes darted from side to side.

Always the optimist, Eddie said, “I like her. Let’s give her a chance.” He held Foxy in his lap much of the day, fearing that if he turned her loose, she’d run away. “Okay, girl,” he finally said. “If you want to stay, it’s up to you.” When he let her go, she circled the house a few times, then, came back to lie on the porch. The decision was made, but it would be on her terms.

Our vet looked Foxy over and said she was probably a “coy dog,” a mix between a coyote and a domesticated dog. She had thick fur instead of hair, pointed ears and nose, and a wild nature that was unmistakable. Now, we understood her a little better. She had a wild side to her on the one hand and a need to be loved on the other. The combination made warming up to Foxy a real challenge.

Progress was slow. The first few months, Foxy continued to keep her distance. She circled us when we walked in the yard and wouldn’t come to us when we called. She and I had one thing in common—we were both afraid of getting too close.  

Sometimes, even Eddie, got discouraged, but we could see Foxy gradually coming our way. Her independent personality couldn’t be rushed or forced. We gave her space and backed off. It was up to her.

Eddie taught her to tree squirrels. But, there was one major drawback to teaching her to hunt. Every time he pulled out a gun, she was gone, quick as a whip, back to the house. She loved to hunt so long as the gun stayed out of sight.

One turbulent April night, Foxy jumped up in bed with us. She had never done that, so I knew something was wrong. I tried to coax her out of the bed, but it was no use. She wasn’t leaving our sides. We awoke around three o’clock in the morning to the sound of a freight train. A tornado hit the back of the farm, uprooting many large trees, but, luckily, our house was spared. Foxy’s warning would not go unheeded next time.

Over the years and out of mutual respect, Foxy became our best friend. She accepted us as her family and we, in turn, accepted her odd ways. Although her character remained unchanged, her devotion to us was undeniable. She became a great watchdog, barking at any man or beast that stepped foot on our place. But, that’s all she did. She wouldn’t hurt a flea.

When she sensed danger, we knew it. She would stand between us and the intruder and bark incessantly. Nothing could get her to stop. Eddie often said her judge of character was better than most psychologists. She could read a cold-hearted person like a book.

After ten years with us, Foxy’s health began to wane and her eyesight started to fail. Since she could no longer hunt for her meals, we fed her by hand. For the first time in her life, she accepted our help and we were glad to oblige, but we didn’t want her to suffer. We discussed putting her down, but not yet. We’d take it a day at a time. Fortunately, we would never have to face that day. Foxy had another plan.

One fall morning, just like the Sunday morning Cowboy had brought her, I went to church. When I got back in, Eddie was awful quiet.

“Where’s Foxy?” I asked.

“She went to the woods,” he said.

That wasn’t unusual, so I shrugged it off and went on about my day.

That afternoon, Foxy still hadn’t returned. That was unusual. Her pilgrimages to the woods never lasted more than a few hours. Then, I noticed Eddie’s long face.

“She’s gone, Linda,” he said with finality.

“Oh, that’s not so. You know how she wanders. She’ll be back.” My husband has a sixth sense, but I didn’t want to consider our dear Foxy might be gone for good.

When she hadn’t returned by bedtime, he told me what had happened. “After you left for church this morning, I went out to do my chores. As I worked, I saw Foxy walking past me on her way to the woods. She did something I’d never seen her do. She stopped and looked back at me. I talked to her, told her what a good old girl she was, then, she dropped her head, turned toward the woods and disappeared. Don’t ask me how I knew, but I could tell she was saying goodbye. I wanted to call her, try to stop her, but that would have been wrong. I had to let her go.”

We looked for her for days, but she was nowhere to be found. Something instilled in her by her Creator was stronger than her love for us. For Foxy, leaving us behind with her dignity intact was the most natural thing in the world. Had she planned it this way?

From the very first day, we knew she was strong-willed and self-sufficient. Now, in her final hours, she not only kept her sense of pride, she helped us let go. How could she have known that act of courage would give us solace? We would miss her, but it was her decision. She knew what she had to do. She was born in the woods and she would die in the woods. It was Foxy’s way.

Freelance writer Linda Defew shares her life with her husband, Eddie, and eight special dogs. She loves writing about nature and her day-to-day adventures on their farm in Western Kentucky. Foxy's story appeared previously in Full Cry.