How an Ontario community rallied together on Facebook to save this fox’s life

A red fox recovers from anaesthesia at the end of a jaw surgery Photo courtesy of Dr. Andrew Winterborn

Earlier this month, on January 9, a young red fox was taken to the Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre in Napanee, Ont., after being discovered near Bath Road in Kingston, Ont. The fox had been hit by a car and was almost unconscious.

When the little creature arrived at Sandy Pines—a charity-driven rehabilitation facility for injured and orphaned wildlife about 45 minutes west of Kingston—the team quickly got to work assessing its injuries. Leah Birmingham, medical director at Sandy Pines, knew the fox had suffered trauma to his head, and after conducting a few X-rays, she realized he had sustained multiple jaw fractures, too. 

Birmingham sent the X-rays to veterinarian Dr. Andrew Winterborn, director of animal care services at Queen’s University and regular volunteer vet at Sandy Pines. She hoped he could complete the surgery in-house, rather than send the fox to a different facility, as is commonly done. She was in luck.

“I took a look and thought ‘this is something that I have the capabilities and technical skills to be able to do here,’” says Dr. Winterborn. He deduced that he’d be able to carry out a less invasive procedure on the fox that wouldn’t require relocating him—or drilling holes into his jaw. Instead, the surgery would involve weaving wire between the animal’s teeth and applying dental acrylic over the area, providing a firm splint to immobilize the jaw and allow for healing. 

The only problem? While preparing for the surgery, Winterborn realized he was missing one, very important thing: phosphoric acid. The acid is typically used by dentists to attach implants and crowns, but Winterborn needed it to etch the fox’s teeth so the dental acrylic could properly bond.

Without it, he wouldn’t be able to do the surgery. “In the past, we’ve had animals sent to the Guelph area, which isn’t ideal because you don’t want a wild animal to have to travel long distances. Plus, we wanted to avoid an invasive surgery,” says Winterborn.

Birmingham sent out a call for help on Sandy Pines’ Facebook page. “This beautiful red fox was found in the middle of the road after being hit by a vehicle,” she posted alongside a photo of the fox. “He has a broken jaw, and we are in need of some phosphoric acid for the repair.”  

The responses were almost instant. “Within about 20 minutes we had people responding to the post and within an hour we heard from Auden Park Family Dentistry, who donated the phosphoric acid,” says Winterborn. Soon after, he was able to successfully complete the procedure.

“It was really heartwarming to see the outpouring from the community to try and help the fox,” says Winterborn, who reports the fox is in good health post-surgery. “He’s eating all the food he’s being presented with and seems to be adjusting to the environment very well.” 

The fox will remain at Sandy Pines for five to six weeks, after which Winterborn and Birmingham will X-ray the animal again to ensure his bones have properly healed. Then, he’ll remove the wire and dental acrylic and safely release the fox near the area in which it was found.

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