BLOOMFIELD, Neb. | Monday night. Snow batters Knox County. Again. Late April, and tiresome. Beverly Mann hops into her Ford F-150 pickup for the 15-minute drive south to Bloomfield, where a night shift beckons at North Star Services.
The flurries she's used to. The ball of fur twisting on Highway 12's shoulder? That's new. Mann thinks she's seen a kitten, abandoned, struggling to survive. She rolls south, needing to serve her workplace at 10:30 sharp.
All night she reflects on the roadside predicament. Survival. Helplessness. The cold. She promises: If the ball of fur remains, twisting at dawn, she'll stop.
Beverly Mann raises bottle lambs and loves her cats, dogs and other pets. She's never stopped like this. Not on Highway 12 in the frozen clutches of an April storm.
"I figured it got swept away by the plows," she says.
Wrong. Mann's eyes peer, her heart accelerating as she makes out that ball of fur 10 miles north of Bloomfield early Tuesday morning. Stepping from her Ford, she sees ears first. This is no kitten.
"It's either a baby fox or a baby coyote," she says. "We have coyotes out here."
She continues. Her warm bare hands scoop the tiny fox, shivering and shaking in the snow. The animal makes no sound, able only to curl against Mann's stomach as she drives home.
"I wasn't sure what I'd do with it," she says. "I knew I could not leave it in the elements."
Mann places the fox beneath heat lamps reserved for her lambs. She tries to give it dog food and milk. The kit won't stir. Mann searches the Web and finds Lynn Posey at wildlifelodgeandclinic.com. Posey, a former emergency room nurse, established the Wildlife Lodge and Clinic in Sioux City 15 years ago.
"She has it under a light, which is perfect," Posey says. "We ask her to give it lamb's milk."
Posey directs Mann to contact Bob Blunderman, of Sioux City, who is on call Tuesday for the Wildlife Lodge & Clinic, a nonprofit organization that finds time and compassion for injured and orphaned wild animals.
"The little ones do deserve a second chance at life," Posey says.
Blunderman meets Mann at Ponca, Neb., and hands off little "Foxy." Blunderman heads to Posey's home, where the animal will receive a medical check and more. Dr. Chad Anema, a veterinarian with the Dunes Animal Hospital in Dakota Dunes, finds that an upper bone in a front leg is broken.
Maybe the fox was hit by a car. Maybe its mother was killed. Maybe "Foxy" went out to forage in the storm and got lost. It's tough knowing how a 3 1/2-week-old wild animal arrives at the side of Highway 12 in Knox County.
"Foxy" has seizures the following day, likely dehydrated. Posey gives an IV solution under the animal's skin. A kitten milk replacer and high-vitamin gel, a half-teaspoon per day, get this fox firing just enough.
By Friday, "Foxy" nibbles at the phone cord while Posey visits. Surgery on the broken leg may happen by the middle of this week.
"Foxy's alive?" Mann asks late Friday. "I heard she had a broken leg but hadn't heard anything else. They didn't know if it could be saved because of the leg and possible brain damage."
Posey's group works to save 125 animals like this per year. She'll work to get "Foxy" back into the wild, a seven-week process that takes "soft release" steps before assimilation into an area around Omaha or Minneapolis.
Thanks to the knowhow, the patience and generous financial donations, storytellers at Wildlife Lodge & Clinic spin lots of happy endings.
Of course, death plays a central role in many of nature's story lines. If an injured animal here can't return as nature intended, it is euthanized.
Mann prepared herself for that reality.
"Deep down, I felt that even if she couldn't be saved, she wasn't starving and she wasn't freezing," Mann says.
The news that "Foxy" is alive and kicking makes Mann's week. "She's in the best hands she could be in," she says. "This is a weight off me. I can't believe she's still with us!"