Features

The Tooting poisoner and the relentless rise of the urban fox

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

Cowering in the corner of a pet shop, I edged towards the door to try to escape as a stranger yelled at me. The man’s face was so puckered up and puce with anger that I feared I was moments away from being beaten to death with a ball-thrower or ham bone.

I had only popped in to buy some dog food for the spaniel and now the spaniel was hiding behind me as a fellow customer shouted abuse. The lady who owned the pet shop was trying to appease the shouting man, who had his own dog with him, a scrappy little terrier who looked as terrified as the rest of us as his owner went tonto.

And what, I hear you ask, was the issue that had set the man off on his barking mad rant? Well, it was all to do with the strange case of the Tooting fox poisoner.

I say fox poisoner. It would be more accurate to say fox and dog poisoner. Because some idiot has gone rogue in the south London neighbourhood where I live and taken it upon themselves to put poison down on Tooting Common at night to kill foxes. Sadly, a much loved dog has been killed after eating the poison, believed to be hidden in lumps of cheese.

The Labrador who died was a great mate of Cydney, my cocker spaniel, and his owner was a friend of mine. We regularly enjoyed carefree walks together. I have not taken Cydney off the lead on the Common since I found out about the sad death of her friend. I daren’t let her go near the bushes bordering people’s back gardens, where it is thought the poison is being left. We are desperately upset about this, and worried sick.

But here’s the thing: regardless of whether this poisoner is dealt with, there is an underlying problem. Foxes are becoming so rampant in some areas of London, and the authorities are doing so little about them. It is inevitable that people are taking the law into their own hands.

The foxes here run wild, they ransack bins, they eat small pets, they spread mange to dogs. They foul public areas so extensively that it begins to make no difference whether dog owners pick up their poo. They are bold and fearless, sauntering about the streets in broad daylight quite casually. Sometimes, there are easily more foxes than people walking the pavements by my house. That cannot be right, and it is certainly not natural.


They are not meant to be in our habitat. But they have been encouraged by people feeding them. A few years ago, I was taking a black cab home when the driver wound his window down, reached into the passenger footwell, and started throwing Wall’s sausages on to the Common. I urged him to desist, but he said foxes were wonderful creatures. And that is what we are up against.

Every day, I sit in my study at home with foxes screaming outside my window. They come up the path to my front door and screech for food. They no longer run away when you approach them. In summer, they come through open back doors. And you cannot do anything, because attacking them is forbidden. They have more rights than us.

And the authorities seem happy with this. I once rang Lambeth council to ask for advice on the issue and they sent me an RSPCA leaflet explaining what to feed foxes — they particularly like chicken pieces, apparently. Although they’re also partial to a pet rabbit or two, in my experience.

The mayor, Boris Johnson, makes noises whenever babies are attacked about doing some kind of cull. But no action has been forthcoming.

And so there I was, standing in my local pet shop chatting with the owner about how terrible it was that our friend’s labrador had been poisoned by someone sent half mad by the fox problem, and how this showed that the council should do something, when a man entered with his dog and began to shout: ‘You can’t kill foxes! You’re not allowed to kill foxes! No one has the right to kill foxes! No one!’ And he went on screaming about the rights of foxes until I edged backwards out of the shop, sensing that the animal rights nerve had been activated.

Later that day, as news spread like wildfire about the Tooting poisoner, a friend who also walks her dog on the Common rang me in a panic. She lives in the street where it is thought the poisoner resides, and there were very dark murmurings there. ‘I’m really scared,’ she said. ‘People are talking about finding the poisoner and making him eat poison.’ Everyone in her street was under suspicion as the net closed in. The reality was probably that more than one resident was putting poison down in their back gardens where they joined the Common, she said. But the Tooting Poisoner had gained almost mythical status and people were hysterical.

She suggested we stop discussing the fox problem with anyone, for fear of reprisals. Anyone who so much as suggested that the poisoner might have been acting out of an urge to defend his property might be subject to abuse, or actual physical attack.

This was ridiculous. I decided to contact the local authorities. But a Wandsworth council press officer emailed me a response which was almost as hysterical as the man in the pet shop: ‘As a dog owner myself I certainly hope its (sic) not true — and if we receive any evidence whatsoever that it is happening we will do everything we can to catch those responsible and prosecute them — and urge the courts to impose the toughest possible sentence.’ Life imprisonment, perhaps?

I asked him what residents ought to do about the fox problem. He sent me the council’s official guidance, which was for householders to secure their bins. That was all.

I contacted Lambeth council, but they didn’t get back to me. They’re probably too busy producing more leaflets with yummy chicken recipes for Charlie.

I rang the Metropolitan police and their reaction was even scarier: ‘You need to call the RSPCA,’ said the lady there. ‘Oh god no,’ I said, and I tried to explain that I wanted help from the proper authorities to advise residents on the apparent death threats being made. I did not want a million pounds of little old ladies’ money spent pursuing one bloke who had put down a piece of poison-laced cheddar. Because then what? The problem would not go away. I tried to explain that it was a triple whammy. Whereas we used to live in fear of foxes, we now live in fear of foxes, fox poisoners and fox poisoner prevention vigilante squads.

But the lady at the Met was unimpressed. ‘Well,’ she said, philosophically. ‘This sort of thing happens from time to time.’

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Show comments
  • Malcolm Stevas

    Melissa Kite has the fox-huggers right: extreme, shrill, irrational, sentimental, excitable, not amenable to reason. I never understood what it is about these types who not only proclaim a disproportionate affection for anything furry, but whose hatred for many of their fellow humans runs in parallel. One can only speculate about urbanisation’s having detached many people from a normal relationship with the natural world, or whatever.
    Country people find it hard to suppress their Schadenfreude over fox (etc) problems in the cities: having experienced the disdain and dislike of townies who presume to sneer at shooting & hunting, it is with some glee that we observe their dismay when foxes turn round and bite them on the arse…
    As for, “..you cannot do anything, because attacking [foxes] is forbidden,” Melissa is mistaken: foxes are vermin and one may destroy them freely. I’ve shot a great many. Melissa might have to find a more discreet way to thin ’em out.

    • pyewacket

      ‘I never understood what it is about these types who not only proclaim a disproportionate affection for anything furry, but whose hatred for many of their fellow humans runs in parallel.’

      Gimme a fox any day to a Jihadi breed of human. It’s not easy to hug or stroke a jihadi. Very easy to stroke a fox, if he’ll let you. Foxy smell or no smell.

      • rcotterill47

        Personally I’ll happily dispose of either!

        • pyewacket

          Ah, come on mate, the smell of fox gets less of a nostril twitcher once you become accustomed to its stinky-sweetness. Having adapted, you’ll start to appreciate the lovely auburn coat, pointy foxy face and wild green eyes, bushy tail and slinky gait. Then there’s the ethereal call at the dead of night. eeeeeeewwwwwwahhhhheeeeeeeeeeee

    • Just A

      I think it’s right and proper that skulks foxes must live and be looked after by these people in their homes. That’s the solution. And if they fail then they are prosecuted.

    • Barton

      I am a farmer so you can keep your juvenile ‘ Townie’ argument. Foxes are classed as wildlife not vermin. They have never been classed a vermin; they are our only native dog and you are a half-wit. Perhaps if Melissa Kite was able to form a rewarding human relationship she would not have to get her jollies from hunting and boring us all with tales of her tedious dog and even more tedious on and off boyfriend.

      • Malcolm Stevas

        Thanks for the abuse. Technicalities? The farmers I know, personal friends of mine and on whose land I shoot foxes, care little for them: foxes are a pest, and can be shot freely. Makes them pretty much vermin, really.
        So I find it hard to believe you’re a farmer – more like another animal-lib loon. “Only native dog” forsooth…

        • Barton

          Disagree with me all you like but do not call me a liar. I farm sheep and cattle. Animal lib loon ? meaningless immature and senseless insult. As for your use of ‘forsooth’ you are not only unpleasant but pretentious. You have personal friends? now that I don’t believe.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            OK, so you feel free to chuck schoolboy insults at others, but get stroppy when others criticise you… Further evidence that if you really are a farmer (still hard to believe) you’re an unusual one. The farmers I know are more normal, sane, mature, that sort of thing. They don’t hate foxes (never met anyone who did) but have an entirely sensible, rational belief that their numbers should be controlled.

          • midtown

            I farm sheep, and I control foxes, as do a good number of other hill farmers I know.
            Go on, tell me you’ve never been bothered by foxes around lambing?
            You don’t have poultry neither do you?

      • pyewacket

        I absolutely agree Barton. I’m not sure if the fox is officially a dog though. I think it’s a different species entirely. For me, the fox has a feline quality, although I know it’s not related to the cat.

    • Molly NooNar

      If it’s legal, why do you need to be discreet? What are you afraid of, Malcolm?

      I eagerly await your definition of vermin, so that we can all consider if it can be applied to yourself.

      • Malcolm Stevas

        No surprise that you fail to understand: discretion is required when discharging firearms in cities.
        Perhaps this is your idea of repartee.

  • commenteer

    A gamekeeper with a gun licence ought to be a good bet. I’m sure there are plenty with a bit of time on their hands now that the pheasant season is over and spring has yet to get going.

  • bravo22c

    A fox killed my cat. It is now an ex-fox.

    • Molly NooNar

      What a disgusting individual you are.

      • bravo22c

        Not so disgusting as the verminous creature which killed my cat and which will kill more…

        • Barton

          Actually far more as I assume you gave your action your best intellectual thought and concluded the animal must die ,whereas the fox was acting on instinct. Oddly most people consider that we are creatures of reason.- but they haven’t met you. Actually I do not believe for one minute that a fox killed your cat- my cats regularly see off our foxes and in all the filmed encounters between foxes and cats the fox has run away. Perhaps the truth lies elsewhere.

          • bravo22c

            Actually, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Actually, my cat was killed by the verminous creature. Actually, I knew very well what I was doing. Actually, the creature will savage no more cats. Actually, I and my neighbours have cleared our area of the vermin. Actually, if any more try to move onto the vacant territory they will meet the same end, actually.

          • Barton

            Actually you are an aggressive imbecile, the best you can do is to imitate a parrot.

          • bravo22c

            Actually, you write at the level of a kindergartner, actually. And I bet you pronounce it ‘acshully.’ meanwhile, I and my neighbours live in a fox-free environment.

          • Barton

            Oh dear! there is no such word as kindergartner and really, beginning a sentence with ‘and’ tut tut! It would appear that you spend your life hunched over your keyboard. Acshully?? are you having a try at being snobbish as well as aggressive Anyway poppet I cannot be bothered to reply to you again as It is against my principals to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent. By the way i am a member of UKIP.

          • akrasia

            Actually i do not believe for one minute that you are a member of UKIP.

          • bravo22c

            The use of a co-ordinating conjunction to begin a sentence is common in English and accepted by all style guides. The usage dates all the way back to Old `English. The reason kindergartners like you are banned from such usage is to enforce a minimum standard of coherence in your English usage.

            ‘Oh dear! there is no such word as kindergartner…’

            False. Look it up, then get your facts right.

            And you missed a comma in your opening sentence.

            If you wish to jump into a gunfight with an aggressive insult, next time don’t bring a blunt knife.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            This sort of nasty abuse is ok, but you don’t like being called a liar? Right.

          • earnshaw

            Perhaps you would care to read your first comment again and remind yourself that you kicked off this thread with juvenile silly and aggressive insults. The first paragraph, indeed, would seem to mark you out as a self-righteous lout. You really have no room to complain when you provoke others into returning your insults.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            I’m sure the other chap is capable of replying for himself – perhaps you’re “hearing voices” as you suggest to someone else here…
            I associate loutishness with the atrocious animal-lib yobs who assault hunters and others going about their traditional, lawful recreations – and with their hangers-on.

          • Soosoos

            How do you know it was a fox?

      • Ed  

        I take it you’ve never lost a pet to a wild animal.

        • Barton

          No and neither have you- actually.

          • Ed  

            No, because I shoot the coyotes first.

            Next question?

          • earnshaw

            I am afraid that nobody has posed a question to you, are you hearing voices ?

          • Ed  

            Perhaps you should read the comment thread more closely. Sometimes, that helps with comprehension….

    • pyewacket

      I’m sorry to hear that, but it is very unusual. Cats and foxes normally ignore each other. Sometimes cats will actually scare off a fox. Interesting fox and cat encounters can be found on Youtube.

  • Ed  

    As we say in the Canadian countryside when dealing with protected nuisance animals:

    “Shoot, shovel, and shut up”.

    • Barton

      I suppose this is why you are ll known for your wit ?

      • Ed  

        It’s not witty; it’s how rural folks live.

        • Barton

          By breaking the law- ‘folks’ eh how very charming.We also have people like you we call the ‘chavs’

          • Ed  

            You didn’t know a thing about it until I told you. What harm, other than missing vermin?

    • JabbaTheCat

      :o))

  • MenControlTheMedia

    People shouldn’t keep dogs in urban areas.

    • Titus

      And that, I think epitomises the ludicrous nature of these debates.

  • MenControlTheMedia

    “They have more rights than us.”

    Than we do.

    And they really don’t.

  • Golfimbul77

    I’m for re-wilding London with bears and wolves and stiff penalties for anyone who tries to deal with them, they are beautiful animals and deserve to roam freely, with luck they will only eat the animal rights activists.

  • rcotterill47

    Foxes have no protection in law. They are classed as vermin. They must be disposed of in a humane manner. Call in a pest controller he will set cage traps and return, shoot them and dispose of the remains.

    • Barton

      Foxes are not classed as vermin and they do actually have protection in law. In this country animal cruelty is against the law but obviously some Speccie columnists and readers get off on cruelty. The sad thing is is Kite has elsewhere described herself as an animal lover.

      • Titus

        There is no legal definition of vermin. Vermin means any species that is
        destructive or injurious to health. That would certainly include foxes.

        Read more: http://www.justanswer.com/uk-law/339ue-law-foxes-considered-vermin-defination.html#ixzz3RM4CUuWV

        • Barton

          In the Uk there is a definition of vermin and foxes are classed as wildlife.

          • Titus

            Nope.

        • Molly NooNar

          “Vermin means any species that is destructive or injurious to health.”

          I’ll get myself a licence to hunt some Tories then, since the super rich have caused a recession and a banking crisis that was very destructive and injurious to health. I can also declare open season on Tory ministers with the suffering they have inflicted on so many with their cuts, such that the number of foodbanks has doubled since 2012.

          • Titus

            Excellent work there!

  • Molly NooNar

    God forbid an animal can be described in terms of enterprise and hard work by getting by on scraps successfully and be allowed to live in peace. But no, the Spectator even has double standards for native success stories that live by its big business perverted capitalist rules.

  • Builder boyfriend

    Lets all start feeding and hugging Rats,Farmer who likes Foxes! Yer right have you lost your mind mate. Can’t wait for the Hunting act to get sorted. Tally hoo . Kite your fantastic! Keep up the good work. Maybe you left wing fox lovers could start cleaning up all the fox poo all over London and my family’s farm in Sussex for free?,and stop eating meat and driving cars as lots of foxes killed by cars. Plus no need to dump you unwanted pets on the very over paid RSPCA just let that fox you been feeding rip it’s head off in you London garden. Or even better go have a rant at a Halal meat shop?, you not got the bottle you lot. Best start picking up the poo,as you know zero about Animal rights Tally hoo from a real farmer and Animal lover.

    • Barton

      Now do stop being naughty and take your medication. I see Kite has now got the intellectuals on board ‘ you not got the bottle you lot ‘ perhaps less time hunting and more time with ‘book learning’ might be of benefit ? Thank you for your perfect illustration of the kind of person who supports hunting. There are farmers who take a different view- they are called ‘intelligent’. Look it up.

      By the way I was rather touched that you voted yourself up.

      • Builder boyfriend

        Intelligent farmers! Never met one. We are a bunch of Fox hunting ukip voting right wing,English men,who shoot at everything,maybe you need to move to London hee hee. Only pulling your leg mate.my point is foxes do not belong in London and need to be removed and loved by the fantastic rspca maybe to your farm!,anyway just cleaning the shotgun as Fox’s been killing everything again last night, bad foxy,like I say tally hoo ps do you want to buy pet rats as can get you some cheap or maybe a nice Fox hat for the wife hahaha.

      • Titus

        Yes he does sound like a plummy mouthed toff. Oh wait a minute…..

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