When a call about a fox sighting at the United States Capitol arrived Monday night, the turn of events came as no surprise to Christine Leonard, director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs for the Architect of the Capitol.
“Although it’s often not very visible to the public,” she said, “it’s not that unusual that we can find wildlife among us outdoors.” His office notified the Capitol Police, who set about trying to catch the “four-legged delinquent.” Typically, a captured animal would be returned to its natural habitat – a nearby forest, perhaps.
But things took a bad turn.
The fox bit at least nine people, including a congressman (Rep. Ami Bera, a California Democrat).
By the end of the week, the fox had been captured, euthanized and tested positive for rabies. The city’s health agency reported late Thursday that the fox’s three kits were also euthanized due to exposure to their enraged mother.
Historically, the fox has not fared well in American politics – or rather, at the hands of American politicians. This week’s version of a Capitol fox hunt was very different from the one in which the first members of Congress – and the first president of the United States – took part. Usually the goal was to kill the fox, and not necessarily in a humane way.
Here’s How The Foxhunting Legacy Is Intertwined With Modern DC
Kind of like golf?
For starters, foxhunting informs the way we talk about politics today. The “whip” in Congress stems from the “whipper-in,” a role in fox hunting that ensured the dogs stayed together while they hunted their prey.
Foxhunting was a status symbol transplanted from Britain, where Parliament adopted the term “whipping”. There, fox hunting was considered a sport enjoyed by the landed gentry, much like ballroom dancing or fencing. It was just another way to show off in town, an alternative to showing up at the tavern or the theater.
Maurizio Valsania, who is writing a book about George Washington’s relationship with masculinity, compared foxhunting to golf. For politicians, the two activities are a kind of “social performance” that proves “that you belong to the upper echelon of society”, he said.
“It goes beyond the athletic gesture,” he said. “It’s more about making deals and making contacts.”
George Washington himself was an avid fox hunter and even raised his own foxes. Today, Washington, the father of our country, is also known as the father of the American Foxhound.
Washington was sparse in detail when recording his many journal entries documenting the fox hunt, usually naming who joined him in the hunt, how long the hunt lasted, if it was successful, and sometimes where. his dogs eventually caught the fox (often stuck in a tree). He didn’t seem to show any respect for the fox himself.
He might have recognized that some of the foxes were smart enough to escape, but he reserved his respect for the foxhounds, said Bruce Ragsdale, who has written extensively about Washington.
“It almost always ends the same way,” Ragsdale said, “which isn’t good for the fox.”
When the desert wanders in
In most cases, wildlife is welcome on Capitol Hill, said Leonard, whose office fielded early calls about the fox. It is a sanctuary for bird watchers and a home for raccoons. It is frequently visited by a snowy owl and occasionally someone sees a deer or, more rarely, a coyote. Leonard’s office even helped build a ramp for ducklings who struggle to leave the water in the Capitol Reflecting Pool.
Fox sightings have been rare at the Capitol, but they are not unheard of. There were a series of fox sightings in 2014, including a fox that ate a squirrel on the Capitol lawn in front of tourists. And a fox took refuge on the grounds of the White House during the Obama administration.
Even though Leonard supports peaceful coexistence with Capitol Hill wildlife, sometimes, she says, the best home for them requires a small distance from the “wild corridors of Capitol Hill.”
On Politics regularly features work by photographers from The Times. Here’s what Kenny Holston told us about capturing the image above:
There was a notable mood of anticipation at the White House on Tuesday as press and staff braced for the return of former President Barack Obama, who had not been in the residence since 2017.
White House reporters took us to the East Room, which was packed with guests eager to catch a glimpse of Obama and see President Biden sign an executive order expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also known as under the name Obamacare.
As the photographers were vying for the job, a Secret Service agent approached me and two of my colleagues and said we had to move – he thought we’d be too close to Biden, Obama and the VP Kamala Harris. But the area he wanted us to move in would have put us completely out of sight.
We held our ground and enlisted the help of a press wrangler to plead our case. Reluctantly, the agent let us stay. It wasn’t long before the announcement over the loudspeaker: They had arrived.
After making a first image with all three of them, I crouched lower, changed my second camera to a wider lens, put it straight on the ground and took the photo above – capturing the commemorative mood in the room as a smiling Biden and Obama made their way past zealous press photographers.
— Leah and Blake
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