Keeping foxes isn’t everyone’s idea of fun - particularly if you’ve also got a big bunch of hens.
One Kilkenny man went out of his way to give a home to three of them that needed nurturing - and now they’re like part of his family, as our video shows.
Patsy Gibbons is now busy bringing his foxy pets on a tour of schools in the southeast, teaching pupils about the creatures and giving them a close-up of them.
Gibbons, who lives a couple of miles outside Thomastown, started off minding a vixen he calls Gráinne at age seven weeks, seven years ago. He later took on two more foxes as people turned to him to care for animals they found.
"The foxes, Gráinne, Minnie who is five years old and now 11-month-old Henry, named after star hurler Henry Shefflin, do get a lot of attention from the children living around here - and now primary schools are asking me to bring them along so the students can see them at first hand. It's keeping me very busy.
“I never set out to have pet foxes - it just happened. I ended up looking after Gráinne since she was only seven weeks old. My brother-in-law found her in a box looking for heat in a storeroom close to Columba’s Hospital in Thomastown.
“My brother-in-law said we should try to do something as she was so thin. I took her to the local vet and so I just continued on caring for her and haven’t stopped.
“Minnie was brought to me as month-old pup after a woman found her in Kilmaganny as word began to spread that I was already looking after Gráinne. And Henry was brought to me by a man living in the nearby town of Graiguenamanagh after he was attacked by a dog.
“He had lots of injuries but is now nearly back to full health. They have their own pen and are kept warm at night-time by an infra-red light I put up. I also make sure they are brought into the house from around 5pm until 11pm as I’ve managed to house train them.”
An animal lover, Patsy says three foxes, no less than 28 hens, 12 ducks, two dogs and two cats are more than enough to look after - and he isn’t planning on expanding his brood any time soon.
“I now have people from all over the country and indeed the UK asking me for advice on looking after foxes. I’m no expert and I’m still learning from them day by day. I’m happy to advise as a lay person.
“They are very tame around me and love being rubbed and played with. When I got them first I was giving them baby food but now I make sure to feed them chicken legs and mince but they also love white snails, worms, blackberries and herbs. But they just adore wine gums.
“The children just love seeing them. I make sure all three of the foxes get lots of walks every day so they are never short on exercise.
“I’ve only ever had one person say to me that I shouldn’t be looking after the foxes like this by saying they should be let back into the wild to be hunted. They give me great enjoyment and I think they are happy to be looked after.”
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman with Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland has today criticised the keeping of wildlife as pets, and the appearance of such subject matter in the news media.
The spokeswoman said: “As a veterinary nurse with over 15 years’ wildlife rehabilitation experience, publishing this type of treatment of our native wildlife is not helpful to our organisation, which is trying to promote and encourage wildlife rehabilitation, and improve standards of care for wildlife in Ireland.”
She said it would be more instructive for people wishing to help wounded wildlife they may discover to visit her organisation's website for information, or to volunteer their services to experienced wildlife rehabilitators in their area.
“Each year brings different sorts of wildlife issues but every year we get contacted about individuals buying and selling fox cubs on the internet. This is a difficult one to deal with as the fox does not enjoy protected status in Ireland, so keeping one as a pet is not illegal under the Wildlife Act.
“It is nonetheless a dangerous and irresponsible thing to promote.”