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The young, mangy Fairlington fox that’s roaming around Fairlington and the efforts to trap it has become an object of fascination on local social networks.
The saga started over the past week or so when several community members started spotting a sickly, young fox wandering around streets and in between houses. Appearing on the verge of being hairless, it was clear that the fox had mange — a potentially fatal skin disease that causes loss of fur and is caused by microscope mites.
Beyond impacting foxes, mange is also dangerous to household pets and can cause severe itching in humans as well. The disease can potentially be resolved with medication, however.
Karen Dadey, Fairlington resident and a retired major in the U.S. Army, sprung into action. She contacted the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA) and, then, proceeded to set up a trap herself in hopes of getting the fox to a wildlife rehabber as quickly as possible.
Dadey put a camera near the trap as well, baited it with a 7-Eleven cherry pie — at the advice of an expert, she said — and posted daily videos onto Nextdoor and the popular “Fairlington Appreciation Society” Facebook group in hopes of encouraging others to help.
Dadey admitted to ARLnow that this was her first time doing something of this nature, but felt like something needed to be done quickly.
“I’m just leaning in as a private citizen, trying to do the right thing for my neighborhood, to keep our pets safe and our wildlife safe,” she told ARLnow.
She ended up getting three other volunteers to help monitor the trap, replacing the bait and water bowl, and releasing any other animals that may have inadvertently wandered in. That included several squirrels and a neighborhood cat.
While many applauded her efforts in the comments, some argued that “capturing a wild animal is a really bad idea, not to mention illegal.” They urged her to “leave this to the professionals.” Those exhortations have been met from strong pushback from supporters of the amateur effort to save the fox.
Dadey called those positing critical comments “bullies.”
Both Dadey and her critics, however, seem to approve of what happened next. Within days, the professionals at AWLA got wind of what was happening and replaced Dadey’s trap with one of theirs.
Chief of Animal Control Jennifer Toussaint posted on the neighborhood Facebook group, providing background on fox behaviors and advising against handling, interacting, or feeding the animals. She also cautioned that helping a fox with mange can be very challenging.
“For the young fox in the photos we want to be up front and honest with the public. Finding rehabbers willing to take a yearling fox with mange is near impossible,” Toussaint wrote in the post. “This illness is highly transmissible to other animals they have in care and they most commonly recommend humane euthanasia.”
Dadey said that at least one of these issues has been resolved, having already arranged with the Nirvana Ridge Wildlife Refuge near Culpepper, Virginia to take the young fox and nurse it back to health.
In the days since, though, the fox still hasn’t been caught.
When it was founded, the Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group was an uplifting place where local residents could ask for help, share information, and connect with one another.
Now, as with just about any online forum of a certain size, the events of 2020 have darkened the skies over the formerly sunny space.
Granted, there are still plenty of heartwarming, helpful and innocuous posts. In fact, there are more posts than most people can keep track of — everything from school opening discussions to questions about car dealerships. But the darker side of online forums has nonetheless crept in.
“I think that there has been an increase in divisiveness,” conceded Kellen MacBeth, co-founder of the group, which now has more than 11,000 members. “It is likely driven by several factors — the increased size of the group and that the ‘coming together’ attitude that characterized March and much of April has been wearing off.”
“When the pandemic first hit, people were scared, searching for answers, and ready to help each other survive,” MacBeth continued. “Now that it’s become a somewhat ‘regular’ threat, people have settled back into routines less focused on getting through a crisis as a community and more so just trying to live life in this new normal. We also saw that as the size of the group increased, you inevitably get trolls and other people who join and don’t share the group’s values.”
The divisiveness isn’t just about the group’s size and the pandemic’s progression, though. It’s also about the many unknowns still surrounding COVID-19, leading to a cacophony of competing warnings and indignations, as well as the politicization of the virus. And it’s about those other big 2020 news stories: the Black Lives Matter movement and mass protests, and a heated presidential election.
Even though Arlington is a progressive stronghold, with social justice signs common even in the yards of the county’s more conservative neighborhoods, BLM-related posts in particular seem to frequently lead to online confrontation.
Last week Arlington Magazine published an essay by local resident Olamide Goke-Pariola, who recounted the vitriol she faced while “talking about racial justice and challenging my mostly white neighbors to think critically about their role in white supremacy” in the group.
“They consistently dismissed my lived experience,” she wrote. “One neighbor even told me my comments were ‘noise.'”
The “Arlington Neighbors” group is not alone in turning into a dumpster fire at times, however.
Things got so bad at the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society neighborhood Facebook group, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, that its moderators shut it down for good. Before it closed, the group hosted battle royales on posts about social justice, with online shouting matches that were a digital counterpart to the battle over signs on a bridge playing out in the physical world nearby.
Even the usually chipper Mothers of North Arlington email listserv started to see moms turning on one another. The group faced accusations that it was dismissive of calls for social justice during the George Floyd protests and that it deleted a Black woman’s Facebook post on the subject.
ARLnow has seen its own share of added divisiveness. A half dozen commenters have been permanently banned for a pattern of racist comments over the past couple of months. Others have been placed on comment timeouts for engaging in extended flame wars. And there has been an uptick in criticism of our articles, with commenters on the site and Facebook questioning our coronavirus reporting and savaging our reporting about multiple COVID-19 cases at a private swim club.
Online Forums Devolve into Shouting Matches — Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark writes about how a Nextdoor post about kids not wearing masks during a baseball game erupted into a barrage of insults and debates among neighbors. Nextdoor is not alone in becoming a forum for heated local debates on hot button issues: last month the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society Facebook group shut down after flame wars broke out over issues related to the Black Lives Matter protests. [Falls Church News-Press]
Virtual ‘Arlington Cares’ Event Tomorrow — “This free, virtual event will recognize the 2020 Community Service Award Winners and remind us of the importance of serving others. A heartwarming opportunity for all ages that will celebrate the overwhelming goodness that is within our community.” [Event Calendar]
Reduction in Homelessness Prior to Pandemic — “For the 20th consecutive year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee has conducted a regional Point-in-Time (PIT) enumeration of the area’s residents experiencing homelessness and those who were formerly homeless. This year’s enumeration and survey occurred on January 22, 2020. Arlington saw a 7-percent reduction in overall homelessness, down from 215 persons in 2019 to 199 in 2020.” [Arlington County]
More Flood Damage in Waverly Hills — “After countless floods in Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood soaked his basement, Tom Reich finally ordered a custom-made waterproof door to protect his home’s bottom level.
On Tuesday, the day before it was scheduled to arrive, yet another storm dumped buckets of rain on the region — and especially on 18th Street North. There, overwhelmed storm water mains sent three feet of water coursing down the street.” [Washington Post]
Beyer Furious at Response to Shooting Inquiry — “‘For nearly three years Bijan Ghaisar’s family and community have sought answers from federal authorities about why these officers killed Bijan and what consequences they will face. This response which tells us nothing after an eight-month delay is an insult to the people we represent,’ said [Rep. Don] Beyer. ‘The contempt such a pathetic answer shows for public transparency and accountability is unacceptable and will further damage the standing of the U.S. Park Police at a time when the region’s trust in them is already at an all-time low.'” [House of Representatives]
Report Businesses Flouting the Rules, Gov. Says — “As Virginia starts seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated Friday what has become a familiar message about limiting crowds, washing hand frequently and wearing face coverings. But he added a new fourth point: Report businesses flouting the rules to the local health department.” [InsideNova]
Freddie’s Closes Temporarily — “Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to close temporarily. One of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19. We are actively reaching out to customers and staff who may have been in contact since Wednesday July 8. We are beginning the process to have the restaurant fully sanitized so we may safely reopen as soon as possible.” [Facebook]
Nearby: MoCo Starting School Year Online — “Montgomery County students will begin the next academic year online, with a phased approach to bring them back to school buildings part-time by the end of November, according to the school district’s draft plan released Saturday.” [Bethesda Magazine]
Trista Nealon and some of her neighbors thought they were doing the right thing when they forced their way into the neighborhood pool to rescue some wayward ducklings — but now, their condo association is threatening them with criminal charges for their efforts.
Nealon tells ARLnow that one of her fellow condo owners in Fairlington Glen noticed seven ducklings stuck in the neighborhood’s community pool back on May 10 and she decided to go ask the pool’s manager if she could get in and help them leave.
When Nealon was rebuffed, she and her neighbors tried contacting a member of the Wildlife Rescue League to come help — again, they had no luck. So a group went back over to the pool, unlocked its gate by reaching in through a well-positioned mail slot, and fished out the baby ducks.
Nealon says a woman accosted the group at the time and threatened to call the police, before storming off, but she otherwise didn’t think much of the encounter. Yet when last Thursday (May 31) rolled around, Nealon and a few other neighbors involved in the rescue effort received a letter from attorneys representing the Fairlington Glen Council of Co-Owners informing her that the group’s Board of Directors “is currently considering whether to press charges or take other enforcement action.”
“I am a [27-year] Glen resident owner, and it is ridiculous that I am being threatened with criminal charges for being a Good Samaritan and saving baby ducks,” Nealon wrote in an email. She shared a copy of the letter with ARLnow and also posted it to a Facebook group for Fairlington residents.
Kristen Buck, an associate with the firm Rees Broome, said in the letter that the condo board felt a lock around the pool was damaged in the process of this rescue effort, and she’s requesting the people involved to pay the board $100 each to help reimburse the cost of replacing it.
“Such a good faith payment may influence whether the Board decides to press charges or take other action,” Buck wrote.
Nealon insists that no one damaged any property over the course of this episode, and she finds Buck’s suggestion that the neighbors should have simply called the county’s animal control to be without merit, given the “imminent danger” she felt the ducklings were in at the time.
Buck declined comment on the matter, as did Thora Stanwood, president of the condo association’s Board of Directors.
But, in a newsletter distributed by the condo association, there is a reference to a “break in” at the Fairlington Glen pool.
The newsletter claims a police report was filed about the incident, and that condo association’s Board of Directors “consulted with legal counsel about the recovery of damage from the break in.” County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says she has no record of any police report being filed from the area that day.
Nealon isn’t sure what she’ll do next, but she at least plans to attend the condo association’s next meeting to protest her treatment, and she doesn’t expect she’ll be alone.
Her post on the Fairlington Appreciation Society Facebook page about the incident already has 125 likes and dozens of supportive comments.
Photo courtesy of Trista Nealon