When a grandmother in China visited her neighborhood pet shop looking for a companion, she was originally considering a cat. She thought a feline would be trouble-free and “more independent than a dog.”
“I was told that he was a Japanese Spitz puppy,” said Mrs. Wang. “But I knew that something was strange about the animal. He never ate dog food. Not once. And he never barked either.”
But when she saw a tiny white puppy, she knew she had found her new best friend.
Mrs. Wang had lost her husband the year before and currently lives with her daughter, Liu Yang Mu, and her son-in-law, Zhang Wei Mu.
“But I’m often lonely. My daughter and her husband travel for their work,” Mrs. Wang said. “They’re both doctors and our family is very proud, but I miss having someone around to cook and care for. My granddaughter usually travels with them and completes her school work online.”
When the 84-year-old grandmother saw Chin Chin in his cage at the pet shop, she was curious about the puppy.
“You could see through his white fur to his pink skin,” she said. “He watched me from through the wire. I think he wanted to come home with me.”
Before Chin Chin and his new momma left to return to her suburban apartment in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, the shop owner had a strange admonition for the pair. “Don’t leave him with other dogs, the Japanese Spitz does not do well with other dogs. They’re territorial,” he said.
Mrs. Wang thought the comment was strange, but ultimately paid it no mind and returned home with her furry new friend.
But that’s when things went from curious to downright strange…
“I took him home and fed him milk and scraps off the table. He didn’t like the dog food I put out for him,” said Mrs. Wang. “Every morning I would fill his little bowl up with dog food and he wouldn’t touch it. The first few times, he would smell it, but after that he wouldn’t pay it any attention.”
Eventually, Wai Zu (as she’s know to her family) relented and began feeding the puppy leftovers from her cooking. She said that he preferred anything with meat in it and Lo Mein noodles.
“Chin Chin never ate any vegetables,” she remembered. “But he would eat rice if it had been browned in beef fat or chicken stock.”
Mrs. Wang’s neighbor would sometimes visit in the afternoon hours. They would drink tea and play Mahjong before taking a trip to the market. One afternoon, the neighbor made a thought-provoking comment.
“I asked Wai Zu why Chin Chin never barked,” the neighbor recalled.
“And that got me to thinking,” said Mrs. Wang. “I had never heard him make a sound, not one time. By now he had grown substantially and had become quite active. He would make a burrow in my dirty laundry hamper and stay in there for hours. That was his favorite place. But even when I would scold him to come out, never a bark, never a sound.”
About this time, the grandmother began putting the pieces together.
“His nails were sharp, not like a dog’s at all,” she said. “And the way Chin Chin moved was so sleek and clever, not bumbling or foolish like a puppy. He moved with purpose, almost like a little dance.”
When her daughter and son-in-law returned from their trip abroad, they were shocked at what they found.
“I told Wai Zu that I had some bad news for her,” said Zhang Wei Mu. “I said, ‘Mother, that’s not a dog hiding in our laundry hamper.'”
“My wife and I had been in Montreal for the past nine months. We are both infectious disease specialists and had been studying Western methods of forensic epidemiology at McGill University,” said Zhang Wei Mu.
“But you see, Canada has terrific winters. After the thaw, all the animals come out of their dens to hunt and their young emerge for the first time,” Liu Yang Mu recounted.
The pair had often taken trips into Montmorency forest and seen the wildlife up close and personal. Although it’s rare to catch a glimpse of grizzly bear or a cougar, other species were more commonplace.
“We saw a marmot, a giant Canadian goose, and even a grey wolf with our binoculars,” said Zhang Wei Mu.
But when the pair was doing their research, they came across one animal in a field guide that they were especially excited to possibly catch a glimpse of.
“We just didn’t know we would have to wait until we got back to China to see one,” said Mrs. Wang’s daughter.
“Yes, it was really unexpected to walk into our living room and see this little guy rooting around in the dirty clothes and then springing up into Wai Zu’s lap. They were quite a pair. I almost hated to spoil all the fun, but I knew that when Chin Chin got bigger, he wouldn’t be able to stay in the apartment. So I had to tell her,” Mrs. Wang’s son-in-law remembered.
But, what’s hilarious, the 84-year-old didn’t believe them when they told her the truth about her mischievous little pal…
“Of course, Chin Chin isn’t a fox,” Mrs. Wang told her daughter and son-in-law. “He’s a Japanese Spitz puppy. I bought him and I’ve been caring for him. Would a fox sleep with you in your bed? No I don’t think so.”
Eventually, Mrs. Wang was persuaded to take Chin Chin to Qinling Wildlife Zoo and get a professional opinion on the puppy’s pedigree.
“There was really no question about the matter,” said biologist Li Qiang Ze. “Chin Chin is an Arctic fox, that’s Vulpes lagopus. They’re sometimes referred to as Polar foxes or Snow foxes. And they can look very much like a domesticated dog when they are young.”
The heartbroken grandmother knew she wouldn’t be able to keep Chin Chin and cried on the train ride back to their home.
After a few days of feeding Chin Chin big bowls of brown rice and fish, she was ready to relinquish her little white companion to the zookeepers, though.
“They assured me he would be well taken care of, and that I could come and visit him whenever I wanted to,” Mrs. Wang said. “This way he’ll be able to get the proper diet he needs and there are other foxes there for him to be with.”
While the family misses the little fox, there’s one thing that is better since Chin Chin moved to his new home at the zoo.
“Our laundry isn’t thrown all over the house like before,” said Zhang Wei Mu.
Could you have mistaken a baby fox for a Japanese Spitz puppy?