The great fox feud started before the unveiling of the billboard-style sign in view of those traveling down Mansfield Road.
Really, the tale begins with an orphaned fox kit and a barn.
Several years ago, a vixen came to a barn that rests near the edge of the Mansfield Road property of Robert and Sheila Peterson. Soon, the couple saw the fox and kits appear. Sadly, the mother died, and only one kit from her litter survived. The Petersons referred to this kit simply as “Baby” every time they saw her emerge from the barn.
That kit grew and later came back to the barn to have kits of her own, with The Peterson identifying her by her striking “socks.” The Petersons then referred to her as “Mama” or “Mama Socks.”
For the past several years, Mama Socks has returned to the area to raise a litter of kits.
This year, Mama’s litter has decreased in number. The neighboring property, whose residents are Lynn Gellerman and Jillian Mayberry, reportedly had multiple traps set up.
The Petersons recently found a mangled kit corpse by their barn, and a few other kits have gone missing. Residents of the area reported increased sightings of vultures.
Last week, the Petersons fashioned a sign, which reads “Trap Drunks Not Foxes” and faces the property of the Gellermann-Mayberry household. Sheila noted in a social media post that the sign also serves as a “privacy fence.”
“My family, and I consider the fox members of our family as well, deserve peace and privacy,” she wrote.
The Petersons filed for a protection order against Mayberry last year following incidents with a few family members, according to court documents.
Following the sign’s completion, Mayberry reportedly drove up to the Peterson property and violated the protection order. She faces three charges related to this incident, according to an Athens County Sheriff’s Office report and court documents.
The hunting and trapping of foxes in Ohio is typically legal from Nov. 10 to Jan. 31. However, per the Ohio Revised Code, property owners can trap “nuisance” wild animals – including red or grey foxes, raccoons, opossums, muskrats, coyotes, beavers, skunks, groundhogs and minks.
The NEWS was unable to reach Mayberry, and Gellerman did not return requests for comment.
Peterson has become somewhat of the area fox lady: children who interact with her fashion miniature fox figurines out of clay to leave on her porch as tiny gifts. People she has never physically met send her fox-related magazines, trinkets and more. She also has been known to dawn a fox t-shirt.
Although she may be the unspoken guardian of the foxes that live in her barn, she told The NEWS that she doesn’t raise foxes or keep them as pets: rather, she doesn’t interfere with them taking up space near her, as she does with the many animals, winged or furred, that live among the trees and crevices of her property.
“Animals don’t have a concept of borders,” Peterson said.
Peterson chronicles the fox family that lives in her barn through a Facebook group, which has more than 500 members and consists of followers both inside and outside Ohio. There, Peterson shows photos she has captured with her long-lens camera, a hobby she has dedicated herself to.
Even people who don’t follow the social media saga are familiar with “Mama,” though. The mother fox made her Mansfield Road rounds, spotted at multiple households frequently, on the hunt for food to bring back to her kits. Many nodded to the red creature’s impact on their lives as they navigated the isolation that comes with a pandemic, heightened in a rural environment.
Faith Knutsen, who lives a quarter of a mile down the road from The Petersons, would watch the mother fox pass by her porch in the evenings. She and her partner, who passed away in the winter by cancer, took joy in the sightings they would have of the kits playing by the Petersons’ barn as Knutsen and her partner returned from hospital visits.
Kim Brown, a neighbor to the Petersons and a former wildlife rehabilitator, noted that the fox is often a very misunderstood species: healthy foxes are not known to attack pets such as cats and dogs. She also noted vixens habitually come into areas that contain people when they are raising kits: a protective measure against their predator, the coyote.
Area resident Linda Sauer noted that she feels she chose to live in the country, and thus chose to live in the natural habitat of many creatures. She put a fence in her backyard to protect her pets from wildlife, but she feels the presence of animals such as foxes, skunks and raccoons have positively impacted her living space.
“I feel that we must adapt our lives to allowing them to live theirs,” Sauer said. “We love living harmoniously with them!”
Other neighbors, like Molly DeWert, noted that the area’s famed fox brings a service to residents: vermin control.
“She would come to our yard every day because we have an over-population of chipmunks,” DeWert said. “In a few short minutes, she would bag two and trot up the road back to her den and all the hungry mouths waiting for her.”
Peterson’s Mansfield Road home is a sanctuary for her, as she is limited in mobility due to health conditions, and she told The NEWS that her time outside and her interactions with the fox and her kits have been therapeutic.
“I was going through a storm, and she was a calm in the storm,” Peterson said of the fox. “She trusts us, and we love her.”