When Linda Sallee saw the poor kit fox tangled up in an Independence School volleyball net, hanging by her neck, she just had to act.
Though school workers advised her not to touch the endangered critter, Sallee helped free her, shield her from the hot sun and calm her until wildlife officials arrived.
Concerned a vet would have to euthanize the animal, who had a badly broken leg, Sallee and her sister even offered to pay to have the animal treated instead.
“I guess I bonded with her while sitting with her,” Sallee said Friday, the day after the ordeal. “I don’t think she bonded with me, but I bonded with her.”
The story couldn’t have had a happier ending.
On Friday morning, the so-far-unnamed kit fox had her left hind leg amputated by veterinarian Thomas J. Willis at San Joaquin Veterinary Hospital, where she’d arrived lethargic and docile, her bone dangling by skin.
She will live out the rest of her days with what now are four other kit foxes — two of them also three-legged — at the California Living Museum in northeast Bakersfield.
She’s estimated to be less than a year old and listed at just under 4 pounds. Eventually she’ll get a name and be publicly exhibited.
“She’s got a long recovery ahead of her but we’ve been successful treating these sorts of injuries in the past,” said Don Richardson, CALM’s curator of animals.
Sadly, there have been many such injuries — and wildlife officials hope the public will help avoid more.
Just this year there have been six Bakersfield incidents of kit foxes getting caught up in nets, with two pups dying, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It’s a big uptick, attributed to population growth and related increasing run-ins between people and animals.
Before 2009 there were 11 known entanglements here, resulting in seven deaths, the agency said.
Soccer, volleyball and baseball batting cage nets were the most common types involved.
Richardson pleaded with people to dismantle nets, not only because kit foxes are endangered but because CALM is having a tough time keeping up with the cost of animal rehabilitations.
It does 400 to 500 rehabs a year, he said.
“We’re asking sports groups, anyone who uses nets in the process of recreation, to remember (to take them down) when they’re through with them,” Richardson said.
At Independence, the volleyball net had been lowered but not removed, he said.
Richardson also urged the public to help CALM financially as Sallee and her sister, Mona Wilson, did. Each chipped in $250 to help cover the approximately $1,200 vet bill associated with Friday’s kit fox surgery.
Really precise numbers don’t exist but there are an estimated 200 to 400 kit foxes around Bakersfield, said Brian Cypher, a research ecologist at the Endangered Species Recovery Program, which is affiliated with Cal State Stanislaus.
How many are left in the wild generally isn’t known because there’s been no funding for a good study, he said.