One of the many joys of being the local “bloke wot does nature ‘n’ that” is that you get phone calls out of the blue when people have found weird and wonderful creatures, or signs of wildlife, in the village and want to know more. My most recent call came from the former chairman of our Parish Council who had stumbled across a tiny frozen animal near the village nature reserve I look after and wondered what it was. I grabbed my bike and did my best Jason Kenny impression into an icy north-easterly wind on die way to retrieve the small, cold bundle, and immediately identified it as a newborn puppy. It was an unusual-looking one, I had to admit, but someone had clearly decided a new dog was not something they could cope with. Being a softie at heart, I agreed to take the little chocolate-brown furball, with his snub nose, still-closed eyes and strange pink under-paws, home and revive him, which I duly did with warm | blankets and milk and the willing I help of my even softer family.
“Aaaaaah! Can we keep it?” was my wife’s first reaction. Having firmly put that idea to bed, I speculated that it was “probably an Alsatian/large dog hybrid”, gave it the temporary name of Little Bear and offered it to my brother-in-law’s family who had sadly lost their dog recently. Despite a threatened hunger strike from his three young daughters, Andy, rather fortunately as it transpired, turned the offer down. Local authorities are duty-bound to collect reported strays, so I called out the friendly Wokingham borough council animal warden, Mandy, who arrived very quickly. “Are you sure it isn’t a baby fox?” she asked, “because they’re chocolate brown”. I had never seen a newborn fox cub and it hadn’t entered my head that this could be a wild canine. A search of baby fox cub images on the internet immediately revealed a photo of what could have been Little Bear himself. I was suitably embarrassed, having been a country boy all my life, I thought I would be stripped of my naturalist status when the news spread through the village.
We cannot be sure what happened but we surmised that a vixen had probably been carrying her cubs across the field to another den site when she had been disturbed and dropped one of them. In this situation, cubs can easily become abandoned, especially in public places during daylight. So Little Bear’s fate wasn’t to end up in a stray dog home, but instead in St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. On arrival, he was whisked off to a veterinary nurse for a health check and was later introduced to three other young cubs that been brought in. A few months later Little Bear and his new ‘siblings’ were successfully released into a Chilterns country estate, where I am confident he has been enjoying the freedom of the wild that was always his due.