Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

There was a fur farm, the Edward Fur Farm, in Livingston County, about fifty minutes northwest of Detroit. When a group of city-resident foxes, whom Detroiters called “sentients,” got wind of the farm they planned to pay it a visit.

The foxes did not like being called “sentients” because that epithet only applied to a narrow band of their intelligence: the ability to understand American English. In other words, because the foxes responded with sensitivity and understanding to the human culture of Detroit, humans thought them sentient. But, of course, they understood so much more of the world.

At least since the time of European contact with the indigenous civilizations of Turtle Island, foxes were depicted by the settler culture as mechanical and non-adaptive. They were dumb animals, possessing a limited number of instinctive responses to danger. They were hunted, trapped, shot, and later farmed for their pelts. They were exploited mercilessly by those who roamed the forests and prairies of North America. The only thing foxes seemed to know how to do, according to their tormenters, was the old “fight” or “flight.” A fox would flee from trap, arrow, or rifle, or she might defy her pursuer and then die by her defiance.

But evolution is a curious thing. And what human beings considered to be a permanent condition, that is, their rule over foxes was only a historical phase.

It took the foxes of southeastern Michigan centuries to grok the words, phrases, and idioms of human speech. But they detected human contempt for their presence very quickly; this contempt fueled their interest in their new neighbors, who were now their prime enemies. The foxes learned the painful lesson that there would be no coexistence with settlers unless they could become as ferociously cunning as even the dumbest of these. Any fool could fire a weapon, but no human being could crack the mind, the paradigm of the fox. Meanwhile, the sentient foxes learned English. They trained themselves to use tools; they stole guns and knives; they prepared themselves to use them. They became urban guerillas, not unlike the Tupamaros of faraway Uruguay or The Shining Path of Peru. But the story of their terroristic exploits is for another day.

When the sentient foxes learned of the Edward Fur Farm, they determined that this would be their first mission of liberation. They studied Livingston, learning its character. It was a place of would-be hunters, of folks who liked guns, and who knew how to use traps. It was a spot where a fur farmer didn’t have to worry that the barbarity of his practices would offend his closest neighbors. Livingston was also the anti-Detroit, a community that defined itself in opposition to everything the nearby metropolis stood for or had ever represented. (And now that included sentient foxes.) County residents liked how they had plenty of trees, fences, and distances to keep neighbors blithely unaware of what happened next door. In such secrecy, the sentient foxes figured an animal liberation mission would succeed.

At the height of summer, when tree and shrub foliage was densest, the foxes set out on foot and reached the perimeter of the Edward Fur Farm quickly, making a fifty-mile journey in about twenty-four hours.

The farm sat just outside the hamlet of Parshallville, a place where any fox was considered fair game. No one in the region had any idea that there was such a thing as a fox that could, for instance, use a pair of wire cutters to slice through a barbed-wire fence. That is precisely what the sentient foxes did.

The fence around the farm stood twelve feet high, with barbed wire strung along its top between each line post. Even though the foxes could have cut a hole at the base of the fence, they made a point of showing their contempt for the farm by scaling it and vandalizing the barbed wire portion, tearing off as many wires as they could without sacrificing what little time they had for their mission on a short summer night.

Inside the farm were 30 yards of cages stacked one atop the next, covered by a metal awning. Inside each cage were minks and gray foxes, sable and even tanuki brought over from Japan. The Edward family packed every enclosure with so many animals that none could turn around.

The sentients cut the bolt on each cage. They spoke in barks to the foxes they freed, indicating their reason for their mission, and mentioned the distance they had travelled to the farm. They promised their liberated cousins a haven back in Detroit. The sentients wished to make a similar offer to the tanuki, the minks, and the sable but could only gesture with their bodies. The best they could do was to remain on all fours and strike a non-threatening pose. Since they intended no aggression, the other liberated animals followed them out of the farm.

The following morning in the nearby town of Brighton, a posse of men gathered at the corner of Main and 1st Street. The men were armed and angry. Word got out fast that someone had attacked the fur farm, depriving the Edward Family of their livelihood. The men debated whether to see the sheriff or to go on the hunt themselves.

In a coffee shop, older folks said it was PETA people who had snuck into town overnight. Anyone who claimed that animals were entitled to the same rights as humans, they said, was not just crazy, they were socialists. These liberationists were Cultural Marxists living on the coasts, people who’d never done a day’s hard work in their lives. The Deputy Mayor, who had stopped in for a cup of Joe and a cruller, told those assembled how his next-door neighbor’s daughter’s best friend had a cousin in that PETA organization.

It was an interesting day in Livingston County. For once, no one took the time to blame Detroit for something bad that had happened. Back in the city, the sentient foxes set about settling in their new neighbors and planning their next maneuvers.