Co Down golfers mourn fox who stole their balls - and their hearts
Members of Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle have been devastated by the death of a friendly fox who was a familiar visitor to the course.
Staff called animal rescuer Debbie Nelson after 'Donny' was found in a state of distress on Christmas Eve.
"She was very ill and it was a big shock for them to find her the way they did," Debbie said.
"She had a nasty bite wound and a raging infection, but I managed to get her to a vet before it closed. They thought she had a fighting chance, so I took her home."
Sadly, despite receiving a course of antibiotics the vixen's breathing and heart rate began to speed up and she suffered a seizure after going into shock.
"She went downhill pretty quickly and died in my arms," Debbie added.
"We don't know how long she was lying there, but she wasn't strong enough to fight.
"Everyone at the club who was attached to her is completely devastated."
The animal, who made a connection with players when she began stealing golf balls in 2017, enjoyed regular snacks from passing caddies, who were under the impression she was mistaking the balls for eggs.
"They were careful not to tame her too much," she added.
"Staff knew her as Donny, but she was known by quite a few names."
Debbie, who founded Debbie Doolittle Wildlife, which has assisted around 2,000 stricken animals this year, has also been left upset by the friendly fox's passing.
"Unfortunately I see it a lot, but it's still difficult, especially with foxes, because they really steal your heart."
It is understood Donny will be interred by staff at Royal County Down today.
"I will be returning her to the staff who want to bury her," Debbie said.
"She's not going home as we had hoped, but at least she's still going home."
Debbie is now focused on releasing from her care "a very lucky" whooper swan that collided with an electric cable while migrating.