Keela, an American red fox, will be living in style in her new digs at an East End rescue center.
The Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center, a nonprofit that rehabilitates wild animals, held a housewarming party Saturday to celebrate Keela’s recently constructed new home and the team effort required to build it.
The approximately 3½-year-old fox had been raised as a pet before the owner quickly realized it was unsustainable (and also illegal in New York) and surrendered her about three years ago to the rescue center in Hampton Bays, according to Noelle Dunlop, the rescue center’s director of development.
“We didn’t really have a designated fox enclosure,” Dunlop said, adding that Keela could not be released into the wild.
So, the center set out on a mission to construct a permanent home for Keela.
“It was such a long time coming,” said Tammy Flanell, an education animal caretaker, as she stood in front of Keela’s home during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The 12-by-28-foot wooden enclosure features everything a fox could want: ledges to jump on, a den with built-in rocks and tree stumps and a tunnel where she can burrow underground. It’s equipped with electricity to provide light and amenities needed during cold or hot months, such as a heater to prevent drinking water from freezing.
She even has a view looking out toward a wooded area where wild turkeys and deer sometimes pass by and osprey circle overhead.
“There’s a lot going on so I’m sure she’s not bored,” Dunlop said.
Maybe not bored, but a bit shy. Keela never did show her face Saturday during the rain-shortened festivities that included live music, face painting and baked goods.
“She is using her freedom of choice not to be seen today because she’s totally petrified with this big group of people,” Flanell told the crowd.
Keela officially moved into the new digs in February.
“It’s great to see her moving around in there, climbing and digging,” said Chris Strub, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We’re seeing all those natural fox behaviors we like to see.”
The rescue center, which relies almost entirely on donations to fund its operation, acknowledged many of the people Saturday who made Keela’s home possible though various donations of money and labor over the past three years.
The Hayes Foundation, which has contributed to the rescue center for other projects, donated funds for the construction.
Michael Hayes, the foundation’s president, says he knows it can be difficult for nonprofits to get projects off the ground.
“The fox project really, really resonated with us,” he said. “Knowing that the choice was that they weren’t going to be able to keep her here and that she couldn’t go back out in the wild, the question was where would she go?”
With funding for the building materials in place, the rescue center enlisted a group of retired men on the East End known as the “Tuesday Crew.” Led by 97-year-old John Anderson of Sag Harbor, the volunteers worked every Tuesday for about five months to construct Keela’s home.
“We do things for people who just plain need some help,” Anderson said. “As long as they give us the lumber, we’ll put it together.”
Anderson says he’s spent about three decades with the Tuesday Crew and the fox enclosure represents the biggest project they’ve undertaken.
“I can tell you right now, you couldn’t knock it over with a feather,” he said.