Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Fantastic Mrs Fox... vixen 'goddess' that incredibly survived 100ft plunge off Co Antrim cliff

By Claire O'Boyle

North coast stylist Sara O'Neill has turned animal rescuer after she and fiance Al Mennie saved a fox that had fallen almost 100ft down a cliff.

The fashion designer was exploring the coastline around Ballintoy harbour earlier this week when she spotted the animal wedged between two rocks.

"I thought it was dead," said Sara. "It was quite an unnatural position on its back, but Al said no, that he could see its little chest moving up and down.

"There was no way we'd have left it there on its own."

The couple sprang into action, covering the injured animal with a blanket and ringing round local vets until one could help.

"We grabbed one of our dog Blyton's blankets from the car because it was getting cold, and called round to see if someone could come and get the fox," said Sara.

"The signal is terrible up there so it was a bit of a nightmare running round to get internet coverage to find numbers and then a signal to ring them.

"And even then it wasn't as easy as you'd think to get a vet, but luckily we ended up with an absolute hero who came to help as soon as his surgery ended."

Liam McCullough runs the Causeway Veterinary Clinic in Bushmills, Co Antrim, single-handedly.

He first heard from Sara around 5pm on Wednesday and when he realised she'd still had no help when his surgery ended two hours later, he made his way straight to Ballintoy.

"I could see the fox was wedged between two rocks at the bottom of the cliff," explained Liam.

"It had obviously had a bit of a fall. Getting there was a safe enough walk off the path, but it was lucky Sara and Al were having an explore with the dog because you couldn't see the fox unless you went off the beaten track."

Luckily Liam was able to move and cage the animal within a matter of minutes before taking it back to his surgery for treatment.

"I anaesthetised it and X-rayed its back and legs," said Liam.

"It seemed to be paralysed in its hind legs but I couldn't see a break, so we're not sure what the prognosis is.

"I think it's 50/50, really.

"It came out of the anaesthetic okay and there was some reflex in the back legs, so we're hopeful things will improve."

Sara has named the fox - a vixen aged about three - Sionna, after the Celtic fox goddess.

"We don't know how things are going to turn out," she said. "But I'm so glad we were there when we were. The poor thing was all alone and if we hadn't stumbled across her she would have had a terrible, lonely wee death.

"She was so contented to have that contact from us. She was calm when Al covered her with a blanket, just looking up at him, and she was completely relaxed when Liam moved her into the cage.

"It's so lucky we ended up down there. It's quite a weird little place we'd never been before, and we just went there for a nosey.

"It looked a bit like a quarry and we were just saying how nice it was, all tucked away from the main path.

"There were all these sheep skulls and we were just talking about how the animals must have fallen down off the cliff and died there when I noticed the fox."

Sara says Sionna isn't the first animal she and Al have helped - and she would always urge people to do the same.

"We've found lots of animals over the years, and we'll always do something," she said. "Al managed to pull a sheep out of a bog in Donegal once, and I've found and helped an injured seagull. It's definitely up to us to help animals if we can, we couldn't just leave them on their own."

A huge wave crashes against Castlerock pier as professional surfer Al Mennie waits on a break in the swell on December 22, 2016 in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. (Picture Charles McQuillan/Getty)
A huge wave crashes against Castlerock pier as professional surfer Al Mennie waits on a break in the swell on December 22, 2016 in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. (Picture Charles McQuillan/Getty)

Liam agrees. "I wouldn't call it an act of heroism," he said. "Especially as a vet. We spend our working hours on farms and in the country with animals and pets - but we help wildlife too.

"I've helped injured birds and other wild animals, got them patched up and sent out to different organisations so they're ready for the wild again.

"When we graduate as vets we make a promise, a sort of Hippocratic Oath, that helping animals in distress will be our priority, so within reason when we're able to, that's what we do."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph