The Talberts named the smaller of the two tiny critters Phineas, the larger one Ferb.
The Fort Hunt family found what they thought were very young kittens under their backyard shed. The animals were so young, their eyes were not even open.
When the animals' mother did not return to the shed, the Talberts took them in and began to care for them. This included feeding them kitten formula every two to three hours around the clock. They even bought a few toys for their new pets.
On a spring day several weeks later, the Talberts took Phineas and Ferb to a park along the Potomac River and let them play on a picnic blanket
A park ranger walked by and "[he] said, ‘They look like a very strange breed of cats,’” according to Hayley Talbert.
“We were very surprised. We couldn’t believe it. We were convinced they were cats,” she said.
Phineas and Ferb were, in fact, very young red foxes.
Baby foxes — or kits — closely resemble kittens until they’re about two months old, said Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation President Erika Yery. Foxes usually mate in December or January, and with a gestation phase of 53 days, many are born in March.
The ranger put the Talberts in contact with the Wildlife Rescue League of Northern Virginia, which offers hotline advice and put the family in touch with Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation, an Alexandria-based nonprofit, which took custody of the baby foxes.
Wild Bunch Vice President Diana O’Connor, who manages the center’s rehabilitation refuge in the Northern Neck, said the kits are in good hands. O’Connor confirmed she accepted two kits recently from the Alexandria area, but she’s currently caring for about a dozen foxes and doesn’t know which ones are Phineas and Ferb.
O’Connor has been rehabilitating wild animals for 30 years. “Our job is to raise them the best we can, raise them wild and release them, and these foxes are being raised with others,’ she said. “They are not coming back to Fairfax.”
Yery said the facility rehabilitates about 1,000 animals every year before releasing them into the wild. First, the animals receive a medical examination to ensure they’re healthy. Animal rehabilitators hand-feed baby foxes.
“If they’re baby babies, they’re usually on the bottle,” Yery said. “You have to feed them milk, and as they get older you feed them cat food and grapes and things like that. And also when they get older, we have to feed them mice.”
As they age, the foxes are placed in a large outdoor cage with the ability to come and go as they please. “At that point, it's very wild,” Yery said. “We also feed them, but at that point they learn how to hunt. It doesn’t take them long. They’re very smart guys.”
Wild Bunch releases them into the wild in August of each year.
Very few Northern Virginia calls to the Wildlife Rescue League involve foxes, said hotline operator Dave Janiga.
“Most of (the calls) are for songbirds and baby squirrels,” he said. “We get a lot of calls on squirrels now, after everything is born and stuff. And after that it’s mostly injured birds. Right now we’re very much in the baby season for goslings and ducklings, so we’re getting a lot of calls for those too.”
Hayley Talbert wants people to be aware that not all animals are what they appear to be at first glance, and she doesn’t recommend the general public care for fox kits. But Phineas and Ferb still hold a special spot in her heart.
“We had given them names, and we had definitely grown attached to them, but we believed it was the right thing to do” to send them to Wild Bunches, she said. “But it was sad to see them go. But it’s the right place for them to be.”
Northern Virginia residents who need to report injured or abandoned wild animals can call the Wildlife Rescue League’s hotline at 703-440-0800.