Faux Foxes: Fox Domestication and Pet Ownership
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Since 1959, the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novisibirsk, Russia has attempted to domesticate the red fox, Vulpes vulpes, in order to better understand the domestication of the dog, Canis familiaris, from the gray wolf, Canis lupus. Interest in owning these newly-domesticated animals as pets has increased, adding to the controversy of exotic pet ownership. Pet foxes in the United States have come across negative community attitudes and have been relocated, confiscated, and even exterminated as a result.
This study investigated existing participant attitudes toward pets and pet ownership and analyzed how the manipulation of canine physical attributes by domestication can affect participant perceptions. Anonymous surveys were administered to 97 undergraduate students enrolled in psychology classes at Texas State University. Each participant’s attitudes toward dogs and pet-dog ownership were measured alongside their attitudes toward domesticated foxes and pet-domesticated-fox ownership. Additional questions were created to assess participants’ legal and ethical attitudes, knowledge of fox domestication, and opinions and experiences in regard to pet ownership. Images were created to isolate physical attributes in canines in order to assess their impact on human perception of undomesticated and domesticated features.
The results of this study showed a preference for pet dogs over pet foxes and provided evidence that a majority of people have participated in the practice of owning pet dogs. A connection was found between attitudes toward pet dogs and foxes. Attitudes toward dog and fox breeding and laws regarding pet-dog ownership and pet-fox ownership showed a preference for the legal possession of dogs as pets over foxes, but a moderate agreement to both dog and fox breeding. A low percentage of participants were found to have knowledge of the Farm-Fox Experiment and a moderately-high percentage showed interest in owning a domesticated fox as a pet. This study’s illustrations found that participants instantly reacted to physical attributes manipulated by domestication, but often preferred the standard wild red-colored fox. Different physical traits were also found to have different perceptions of participants.
This study has shown that while our communities are not yet ready to accept these animals into the home, there is potential. Not only do these animals have the genetic potential to become more domesticated and suited for life with humans, participants were shown to have moderately high favorability scores toward pet domesticated foxes.