A student who became a surrogate mum to an abandoned vixen cub has told how the adorable creature is now best friends with her pet Labrador - aping the Disney movie The Fox and The Hound.
When Gemma Holdway, 19, and her family discovered five two-day-old foxes nestling into hay on their farm in Bath, Somerset, they feared the cubs might die when their mother failed to return.
So, they took them in, intending to hand them over to an animal hospital where they would eventually be released back into the wild.
Gemma and Vixey. Credit: PA Real Life/Collect
But, the runt of the litter, a little vixen, or female, ended up imprinting onto Gemma and her boyfriend Dan Pearse, 19, leading to her adopting and hand-rearing her.
This really is what dreams are made of - and, just in case you thought imprinting was only something that happened on Twilight you might be surprised to find out that it's actually a critical period of an animal's life when it forms attachments.
Animal science and management student Gemma, who feeds, bathes and walks the fox, called Vixey, alongside her four dogs, says: "Vixey is definitely a dog at heart.
"I completely understand that she is still a wild animal, and is very independent - but I also know that, now she has imprinted onto humans, she may end up being hurt if she went off on her own. Wild foxes would smell us on her, and see her as something to kill.
"We have acres of land she can run around, so she has a very nice, laid-back life and will go off exploring every day, before finding her way home before dark."
Gemma's dad discovered Vixey and the rest of the litter in March 2018, when
cleaning out a barn. At first, he mistook the animals for kittens.
The moment she saw the white tips of their tales, though, Gemma said she knew they were foxes, remembering that her and Dan were drawn to the runt of the litter which turned out to be Vixey.
She added: "We have CCTV, so we rewound it the next morning and watched it all back, to see if their mum came back - but she never did. We live near a busy road, so we were worried she might have been run over."
The family then arranged for a nearby animal hospital to have the litter. But, at around five days old, Vixey opened her eyes for the first time, and imprinted onto the Good Samaritans meaning that being released back into the wild could be very dangerous for her.
"Foxes are shockers for imprinting," explained Gemma. "None of us realised at the time, as it happened so quickly, but once they open their eyes, that's it. Whoever they see first is mum. Three have now been released back into the wild and one is also domesticated like Vixey."
Vixey and Luna's bond is similar to the Disney movie The Fox and The Hound. Credit: Walt Disney
Realising she was destined to keep Vixey, Gemma set about arranging her
injections and introducing her to her four dogs, Labrador Luna and Jack
Russells Raisin, Nidge and Polar Bear.
She continued: "Luna, in particular, was very wary at first. She didn't quite know what Vixey was and was unsure when she'd try to play with her. Now they absolutely love each other. They're the very best of friends.
"Vixey follows the dogs everywhere, copying what they do. Raisin rules the roost, so has almost taken on the role of Vixey's mum."
Gemma is also currently trying to get Vixey used to wearing a lead, hoping to, one day, take her on walks with Luna, Raisin, Nidge and Polar Bear.
She added: "We're getting there with lead training. She wears a collar and bell, which she's fine with - the bell in particular is a godsend, as she's so fast, that it helps us know where she is.
"But she hated having a lead clipped onto it. Right now, we're trying a ferret harness, as it's the only thing that fits her narrow body. Once she's trained, we'd love to take her out, but are wary about other dogs and people at the moment."
Vixey and Luna are now the best of friends. Credit: PA Real Life
Respectful that Vixey is still a wild animal, Gemma allows her plenty of
time to roam around her land, which has been 'fox-proofed' so she cannot escape
and predators cannot get in.
The adorable creature will enjoy a 30 minute run each morning before breakfast, then has the rest of the day to explore.
Gemma continued: "She always makes her way home before dark. She's very intelligent, and can remember where she lives. She'll then come in to sleep for the night. She either sleeps on my bed, or under the sofa.
"She is also completely house-trained, and either goes to the toilet outside, or in a litter tray. We have learned the hard way not to leave any shoes lying around though, as for some reason, she sees them as toilets, so wees in them."
While Gemma knows that many people have negative opinions about foxes, with a string of stories hitting the headlines about them getting into homes and biting people, she insists that Vixey has a gentle temperament.
A red fox stands in the sunlight on a meadow. Credit: PA
"People can be wary of her when they meet her, but she is far more likely to run off and hide until she trusts someone than attack. She recognises all of us, so will run to the door to greet us," she said.
"Foxes only tend to bite when they feel threatened or are protecting their young, so if ever she seems in a strop and shows her teeth, we know to just leave her alone."
And Vixey is now firmly entrenched as a member of Gemma's family. She added: "We all adore Vixey, but not everybody has been nice about her.
"It would have been great to release her, but it was simply too dangerous. She has a lovely life with us and as long as she's under our roof, she's nobody else's business.
"We've fox-proofed the garden so she can't get out and attack anything, but she also has lots of land to run around on. Anyone who meets her can see how happy she is."
Though she dotes on Vixey, Gemma is careful not to encourage others to get foxes as pets, as her situation is very unique, saying: "Although Vixey is a great member of the family, we wouldn't recommend having a fox as they are highly demanding and aren't suited for living in a typical domestic environment."
Featured Image Credit: PA Real Life