GEORGETOWN — Growing up in Los Angeles, artist Robert Bridges was never surrounded by animals.
His family had a dog named Buster. Buster got the job done, but not in a legendary way.
But since Bridges and his wife, Sharon, a teacher at Russell Cave Elementary School in Lexington, moved to a home on five acres in rural Scott County, Bridges has made an unexpected friend with which he is fascinated: a young fox he has named Chimi, short for Chimichanga.
The irony is that Bridges, an artist who is working on a children's book with animal characters set in a fictional community called Thousand Weed Marsh, has often portrayed foxes in his art. Over the mantel in the living room is a fox; depictions of more of the elegant animals are portrayed in Bridges' studio.
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It's as if Chimi, the fox, found Robert Bridges, an artist with an uncommon interest in foxes, after the couple moved from their home in Lexington's Gardenside last year.
The neighborhood where the Bridgeses now live is in rural Scott County. Robert Bridges thinks Chimi hails from an abandoned house and barn nearby.
He describes Chimi in affectionate, almost anthropomorphic, terms. He has watched Chimi grow up over the summer from his first appearance as "a tiny little thing."
Chimi has also been spotted while Sharon Bridges is out mowing the acreage. The little fox is not wild about the fierce grinding sound of a mower starting up, but he likes to watch members of the family. He also appeared one day recently when some Lexington friends were visiting.
Bridges' mother-in-law, Debra Alderman, once saw Chimi in the dusk, trying to catch fireflies.
The animal isn't tame, but he is interested in the Bridges family, particularly Robert. One evening, Robert learned that Chimi was following him during his evening run.
Chimi has stolen one of Robert's gardening gloves, making swooping runs with the glove like a game of fetch and then later attempting it a second time. Sometimes he will crouch like a puppy with a wagging tail when he wants to play.
Bridges tried to warn off Chimi one day when a neighbor's dogs barked a warning.
"I know he can't understand, but he took off," Bridges said.
Foxes are not pets, but they are the subject of an intriguing long-term experiment in Russia. Beginning in the 1950s, a geneticist tried to breed foxes that, within the span of a single human generation, would become as domesticated as dogs — responding to commands and learning behaviors such as not tearing up the carpet (foxes are determined diggers).
The experimental foxes did become more affectionate and actively sought human companionship — online video shows them making the high-pitched fox "mwah" sound while clamoring for petting and belly rubs — but as of 2012, the domestication was not completed, and the experiment was running out of money.
Several online websites offer foxes as pets, but generally foxes are viewed as intractably wild.
However, that doesn't mean they're not curious about humans.
The Bridgeses don't view Chimi as a pet. Daughter Ellie, a second-grader, is amused by the animal "guarding" the family garden from chipmunks, but she knows not to approach the feral animal. Son Ezra is just learning to toddle around.
"The fox, he creeps up, he walks right to us," Ellie Bridges said.
Robert Bridges is the artist of the poster The ABCs of Kentucky for the group Kentucky for Kentucky.
The print includes such illustrations as A is for Ali (boxing gloves), B is for Bluegrass (banjo) and C is for Colonels (string tie over white shirt). Alas, F is not for fox, but for fried chicken.
Meanwhile, Bridges is in talks with Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, to work on an illustrated book for young people about the estate.
Bridges continues to work on his book about the Thousand Weed Marsh, and Chimi might make a fictional appearance. "I think about him a lot," he said. "People say, 'Work him into the book.'"