I’ve written recently about my studies of death and dying. Today it was rather driven home when I had to dispose of a dead fox. I don’t frequently encounter dead animals of any kind, particularly not ones as large as an adult fox. I have a real affection for the canids and this animal was around the size and weight of the dog I had growing up, my most beloved childhood pet. But this was no dog, nothing domesticated or wild.

Returning from lunch I noticed it. lying in full view on the grass beside my car park at work. Its perfect triangular ears and white-tipped tail made it unmistakable as a red fox, a common predator (often termed a pest) frequently present but infrequently seen around Milton Keynes, my town. Yet, clear and orange as it was against the dull green grass of a wet Spring, it had been ignored. The 160+ people in my office had passed it, but no-one had taken steps to do anything about it. I had my hands full and decided to speak to Reception, who told me there was no-one willing to dispose of it.

Lunch dropped off at my desk, I returned a short while later with some garbage bags and a shrill warning not to touch it with my hands (foxes are known for harbouring ticks and parasites). I know for hunters and farmers, disposing of dead animals is no big deal, but for me, here in relatively suburban Milton Keynes, I found myself doing something I’ve never had to do before. The only dead animals I’ve ever encountered were pets (or already chopped up in a supermarket). This was the first wild animal’s corpse I’d experienced up close, apart from a few dead birds I’d poked with a stick as a child.

I looked down on the noble little thing, first being certain to check it was dead. I laid a hand on it (through the bag) – it was cold, certainly not moving, even to breathe. I was reminded of the times when, in the early hours of the morning I would stagger drunkenly home through Brighton, often seeing a skinny fox crossing my path as it threaded through the sloping streets and back gardens of the city. Its eyes were closed, lips slightly drawn back. An image of peace. Above the fruit trees were in blossom, and I caught myself thinking of the animal’s few years of life, of how those blossoms would have been in its nostrils as it closed its eyes for the final time. Its final spring.

As I slipped the black bags over the animal (tail first – stiff, it had obviously died over the weekend) something bubbled up within me, and I found myself muttering a quiet “may your soul find your fathers”. I’m not a believer in souls as such, at least, I didn’t believe I was. But where it comes to wild things… there is a certain “soul” there, is there not? A ferocity, an authenticity which can’t be denied. It was apt that I gave this little involuntary blessing to this beautiful animal.

Bagged, the fox was taken to a nearby dumpster to await collection by the town council and, presumably, incineration (a horribly unceremonious end for this strangely beautiful creature). As I carried it across I had the mental image of a little blue shape following me, a little like the ghost from Coda – but vulpine.

A strangely profound experience in the middle of my working day.

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