How did paint get on Buttons the elk? - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

How did paint get on Buttons the elk?

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CLE ELUM, WA - In the tiny town of Cle Elum, there's a bit of a celebrity who lives in one neighborhood. Her name is Buttons - and she's an elk.

But right now, she's the center of a controversy that's dividing neighbors.

Buttons has been living in Kittitas County all her life. It's unclear how long, but people started to notice her during the Taylor Bridge Fire in 2012. Then last year, she walked up to a group of firefighters who took pictures with her and put them on Facebook.

The attention she's getting now...is not as pretty. For more than a week, Buttons's life has been a little rough. Doug Philbrick lives in the same community that Buttons does, and last week he found red spots on her coat.

"And I looked and I go, 'it's paint! Somebody has spray painted Buttons!' Philbrick said. "It was thick as plastic, like a plastic shield in some spots."

Philbrick says the paint on Buttons is the same color on a Habitat For Humanity home being built in the neighborhood.

"I walked every square foot of that lot," said Philbrick. "There was no splash mark. No splash on the wall. No scaffolding up but there was a couple buckets on the ground."

Jeremy Storrs is the construction coordinator for Kitttias County Habitat For Humanity. He confirms that employees and volunteers were painting the new house last Saturday; however, he says no one from the organization was on the site when Philbrick saw Buttons with paint on her last Tuesday.

"Aside from leaving the waste bucket of paint out there, which I tremendously regret," admitted Storrs. "Not getting the lid put back on it tight enough, I have no idea what went on."

Despite this, Philbrick believes Buttons was painted on purpose.

"Whoever did this it was just an act of overzealous, Eco-terrorism in my mind, and someone has to be held accountable."

But there are neighbors who are convinced it was just an accident.

"I can't speculate how it got on her but I can absolutely reassure you it had nothing to do with our spray equipment or paint brushes," Storrs said.

Kittitas County Habitat For Humanity Executive Director, Sherri Ott, released a short statement that says: "We want the community to know that we regret that the paint can was left near the house where we were working and are sorry that Buttons ended up with paint on her fur.  If Buttons has paint around her mouth, we are willing to have her checked by a vet.

"Habitat for Humanity deeply cares about the communities we serve. We would never intentionally do anything to harm Buttons. We can only speculate about how the paint got on her, but in the end, we really don't know how it happened."

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