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What is the single most important question about COVID-19 you think needs to be answered? Submit it for a special Idaho Matters Doctors Roundtable in English and Spanish.

Why Foxes Love Shoes So Much

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A few nights ago, one of my colleagues here at Weekend Edition was woken up from a fitful pandemic sleep by this sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX BARKING)

MELISSA GRAY, BYLINE: And I thought, oh, God, it's the foxes again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Melissa Gray is used to hearing barking foxes outside her bedroom window.

GRAY: More like insane, freaky shrieking.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX BARKING)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The next morning...

GRAY: My husband went out and found our shoes - the ones that we keep on the porch - he found our shoes in the yard, all over the yard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now, something like this had happened before, a shoe or two out in the yard of their Northern Virginia home. Melissa just assumed her husband coming home late had maybe knocked the shoes off the porch as he made his way to the front door.

GRAY: He's a little clumsy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But then...

GRAY: This particular time, though, it was all the shoes, and the basket was pulled out. And I don't think it was my husband because he doesn't, to my knowledge, like to chew on my tennis shoe laces.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Melissa did a little Googling - and turns out this wasn't just an isolated band of marauders with a footwear fetish. Foxes prowl front porches and back doors all over.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIXEN SCREECHING)

VICTORIA FLICKINGER: Oh, my gosh, I forgot to bring my shoes in. I need to go do that before the foxes start wandering around at night.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Victoria Flickinger of Downingtown, Pa. Dozens of her family's shoes have gone missing over the past year.

FLICKINGER: Every once in a while, it's like, oh, my God, you know, where did we lose one? How did it go away? How could - I - my pair of flip flops were by the back door. Why is one now gone?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She wanted answers, so she went to the neighbors.

FLICKINGER: Hey, does anybody keep finding shoes in their yard or anything? We're missing a couple of sneakers by now, my favorite pair of pink flip-flops and all of these water shoes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Word got around, and the whole town started talking about seeing fox kits toss sneakers in their garages and vixens tug big hiking boots across yards. The neighborhood Facebook page lit up with fox sightings and photos of wayward shoes.

ELISE ABLE: Anything that they can sink their teeth into that's a little firm but a little squishy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Elise Able is a wildlife rehabilitator who's worked exclusively with foxes for 35 years. She says their obsession with shoes is well-documented. They've stolen sandals in Japan and burgled work boots in Britain. Last summer, one enterprising German fox snatched about a hundred shoes in Berlin - his favorite, Crocs in every color.

ABLE: If they're going by on their rounds and there's something like a shoe sitting there, it might smell interesting and want to pick it up and take it home for the kids, take it home for the vixen that's watching those kids. Depending if it's leather, it might actually be a tasty treat, or it might just be an interesting thing for everybody to play with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Foxes have also been more active during this pandemic. There's reduced car traffic and more humans at home, leaving shoes out for the taking. But Elise Able warns that foxes can do something worse than steal your shoes.

ABLE: The fox just might decide to scent-mark that boot, which would be just a little bit of urine that might smell a little skunky.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yuck. Who wants that? But also, who wants muddy shoes in their house? Able suggests tying a balloon near the shoes, helium optional.

ABLE: An inflated balloon moves and is really creepy to foxes. And that scares the foxes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Victoria Flickinger wants the foxes to stay around her home even if she doesn't see her favorite pink flip-flops ever again.

(SOUNDBITE OF KITS VOCALIZING)

FLICKINGER: The foxes have been an absolute joy, especially as we've been home for the past year through the pandemic. We got to watch them from the time they were tiny and barely creeping more than a foot away from under the shed where they were living. And now they wander around all through the neighborhood.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vixens usually give birth in March and April. So if you live near foxes and love your shoes, best bring them indoors, away from the bushy-tailed bandits. Or get your balloons ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PETEY'S SONG")

JARVIS COCKER: (Singing) Well, like any little critter needing vittles... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.