An arctic fox on the lam has made an expensive habit of fooling Hastings police into thinking the pet was a stray white dog.

"He outfoxed us twice," said police Chief Paul Schnell.

On two occasions this fall, different officers have "tried to deal with this dog thing. Who would think that a fox would have a collar? It has been the source of some ribbing here," Schnell said.

Vixie, the wayward fox, belongs to Natalie Crusan, 22, who found it online and raised the kit since it was six weeks old. Now eight months, Vixie lives with cats, dogs, cows and Crusan on her parents' dairy farm on Hastings' west border.

Vixie, whose coat fades to white before winter, twice chewed through her leash and trotted down the hill into town, said Crusan, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Each time Vixie -- who likes people, especially those with treats -- appeared, residents called police about a stray white dog.

Both times, officers hauled the stray to Shamrock Animal Hospital in Rosemount. The vets there broke the news that the 11-pound vixen wasn't a dog but a fox, a normally wild critter they won't accept. It cost Crusan a total of about $170 in fees to get her fox back twice.

Veteran officer Richard Brown responded in mid-October to the first call and noted the canine looked like a fox but was tame, police reports said.

A few weeks later officer David Bauer responded to a stray call about midnight and found a small animal with long white fur that looked like a fox. It stank and had apparently tangled with a skunk that wounded its nose. Neither officer returned phone messages.

Working a late shift, Bauer had heard nothing about Vixie's daytime caper, Schnell said. The resident who called was worried that the little white dog was hurt.

"You can see how it could happen," Schnell said. "The officer is not going to tell the homeowner, 'That's a fox.' You just can't do that."

The first time, an Elk River veterinarian had agreed to relieve Shamrock of the white fox, a rarity in these parts. Crusan drove to Elk River to reclaim Vixie. The next time she retrieved "my baby" from the Hastings police station, Crusan said. Police told her they will no longer pick up the fox because it is considered wild.

The boys in blue have been briefed about the fox in seasonal white, and Schnell quipped, "Nobody wants to be the third one to encounter this thing."

Crusan thinks Vixie's days of urban forays are done anyway.

"I bought her a double-reinforced leather collar," she said. "She should never get away again."

Jim Adams • 952-746-3283