Animal influencer. Mixed media artist. Domestic fox.
When Jessica Coker, who lives in the panhandle of Florida, stumbled upon a Facebook post about an Indiana fur-farm rescue fox that needed a home, she got a permit and adopted Juniper. Now almost 3, Juniper has grown from “a terror who would destroy things and was extremely bitey” to “a sweet, cuddly animal who sleeps in the bed with me.” Coker, an artist, started an Instagram to document Juniper’s progress. Beloved by fans for her snaggletooth smile and playful nature, Juniper now has more than 2 million followers and is one of the Top 10 Pets on Instagram for 2017 — the only non-cat or dog animal on the list. She also has a precious fox-and-hound relationship with her dog sibling, Moose. Says Coker: “Moose is everything to her.”
Juniper’s new biography Juniper: The Happiest Fox is set to hit shelves on March 27, written by her owner and published by Chronicle Books. It’s chock full of adorable photos and details about how this exotic pet grew from a naughty rescue kit to international animal artist and social media superstar. PEOPLE recently spoke to Coker and learned more about this adorable, silly and talented fox.
How did you first come to adopt Juniper?
A friend had shown me a post on Facebook of a family who owned a farm in Indiana that was looking for a home for fox kits. They couldn’t be released into the wild because they were descended from fur foxes. If they had been released into the wild, they would have died. And it’s illegal to release them into the wild like that. The farm was only looking for qualified homes. Across the board, you need to pass a test that shows you understand the species you are adopting, and you’re qualified to take care of them. You need to have a proper enclosure with a dig-proof, chain-link bottom covered with dirt, and enclosed at top so they can’t climb out. They’re good jumpers and climbers. [You need] enrichment items and other areas, too. I got a permit within a month and drove up.
Her enclosure is outside but she comes in a lot, she prefers inside because she’s pampered like that. There are no indoor requirements; she just needs to be safe and able to get outside. She prefers being outside in the winter; foxes love cold weather, in a week they fluff right up and have a huge winter coat.
How big is Juniper now?
She was the size of my hand when I got her. I was looking at baby pictures last night, she was so small! Now she’s the size of a really large house cat, thicker but body-wise the same. She’s almost 20 pounds.
What was her disposition as a kit (baby fox) and now?
Foxes are only born between February and late April. I adopted her in May of 2015, and she’ll be three years old this April.
I think she’s come a long way. Up until she was one-and-a-half years old she was a terror. She would destroy things. I lost so many clothes; she would tear them off the counter and chew holes in them. She’d run under the bed and scream and you wouldn’t get them back. She was also extremely bitey! More than any other animal I’ve had. I have scars all over my hands. That was her way of communicating; if she didn’t like something or if she wasn’t feeling like being pet at that moment, she would bite instantly and it would be hard. But as she’s gotten older, she’s realized she doesn’t have to bite hard to get her point across. Now she’ll just give a very gentle nibble if she’s upset about something, which I’m very thankful for. She cuddles more now, and she sleeps in the bed with me every night. She’s become extremely sweet in her older age.
Red foxes normally live 2-5 years in the wild. They have been known to live up to 8 or 9 years in captivity.
Tell us about your dog. What is Juniper’s relationship with him like?
Moose turns 8 in April. He is an Australian shepherd-Malamute mix. When they’re outside they adventure together, though she gets distracted and more interested in the environment and soaking up all the smells. But inside, he is her main focus. Moose is everything to her. They pal around and cuddle. Moose guards her a lot. He thinks it’s his job to keep her safe or comfortable. He’ll stop the other animals from playing with her if she’s crying. They get into bed together and cuddle at night. He sleeps on the floor, but they start out in bed together. She’s little spoon with him, and he’s little spoon with me.
How are foxes similar to dogs or cats?
It’s one way or the other with certain traits. They mark like cats, they housebreak like cats. When they walk on a leash, they eventually walk like dogs but its more like cats at first. They’re skittish and try to back out of the leash. If they go outside and see a stranger, they’ll want to dart. If they’re not in a safe space, it takes a lot of socialization to get them comfortable. Being too stimulated for them is really stressful. Sometimes they scream, and different screams mean different things. One is really shrill, ears back and eyes wide: ‘Whatever you’re doing, I don’t want a part of it! Please stop.’ Some sounds are like a baby crying, others are like a chimpanzee. Another is like a cooing sound. That’s the best. It’s the most affectionate sound they can make towards you. Not quite like a cat purring, but more like ‘ooh, ooh, ooh.’
Like dogs, they’re friendly and play with people. They cuddle and are good to pet. They bond like dogs.
How did you house train her?
Training them is a lot different than training a dog. It’s more like training a cat. It’s a lot of positive reinforcement. And just being really consistent with what you’re doing. Whenever she’s being naughty, I give a firm ‘no,’ then give a treat or something she’s allowed to chew on. She eventually caught on. They’re extremely smart animals and it doesn’t take much, it’s just your will versus her will.
As far as housebreaking, I use essential oils because they want to mark whatever smells like them. Using potty pads and litter boxes, I’ll put essential oils on them and because they smell so strongly, she tries to cover that up. Then after initially going to the bathroom in those spots, it smells even more like them, so now they’re like ‘Oh, this is where I got to the bathroom.’ So it wasn’t that hard, but they do still mark things that they want to claim ownership of, certain toys and new things in the house. As far as toys, she has a few select ones that are her pride and joy. She has a grapefruit toy she really likes and this little blue ball from Bark Box she’s rediscovered. She plays with dog toys mostly.
In the book, we learn that Juniper loves marshmallows and socks. What are a few of her other favorite things?
She likes jerky treats, and she really likes anchovies a lot. And chicken gizzards, they’re her favorite! I’ll cut them up in little pieces so she thinks shes getting more than she is.
I feed her a completely raw diet, no kibble or preservatives. Mostly quail, rabbit, things they’d eat in the wild. Also vegetables and fruits. Aside from being carnivores, they do need fruits and veggies, which is unusual.
Juniper is an animal artist, just like her mom! Tell us about her technique.
She started when I was in the yard. I was painting and she walked into my paints and made a game out of it. She doesn’t have a certain technique. She just runs around all over the canvases I have laid out. Then she’ll come back to me and sit down. She knows not to sit directly in the paint, but she’ll sit at my feet. It’s a great form of enrichment for her, it gives her mind a lot of stimulation. She knows this is fun time, paint time.
A 12 x 16 painting typically sells for $45. An 18 x 24 painting is on stretch canvas, and that’s about $250. I’m saving up to buy land, to buy or build an animal sanctuary. It’s a 5-year goal, but a lot goes into it to even get the permit.
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Not long ago, you adopted another fox, Fig. What other pets do you have?
Juniper, Moose, two snakes, three geckos, two sugar gliders, and Fig the Fox. They are like mom and son, kind of. She’ll try to feed him like a baby. Every morning she’ll chase and antagonize him for a while and then she’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve missed you, let’s play!’ And then she’s all, ‘I’m done with you,’ and she goes back to her spot under the bed or to Moose and tries to get him to play with her.
Fig is different from Juniper. Very calm, very laid back. It just comes to having a routine with them. Every morning they all run around and wrestle while I’m getting ready. I think having this many animals helps. For the most part, the foxes are nocturnal, so they’ll stay in the house and sleep throughout the day, or go out to their enclosure. When the sun goes down, I prep all their meals. Everyone eats at the same time.
I’m considering rescuing a third fox in the spring.
What does your family think of Juniper and all your exotic animals?
My family always thought I was a little crazy! They’re used to me always caring for something unusual. The foxes only bond to one or two people usually, whomever is around them most. When my parents first came [the foxes] were standoffish. They didn’t understand. They’d say, ‘How do you like these things as much you do? It won’t even come up and let me pet it.’ My mom loves them now and calls them her grandkids.
How do friends or potential romantic interests react to your animal-filled household?
I was in relationship for 5 years, but I’m single now. He had a chameleon and a cat. I used to post a lot of pictures of the cat and people still ask about her. Juniper didn’t get along with the cat, so I’m not too sad about it. Juniper would scream at her to get away and charge at her, she does not like cats.
I’m still figuring out how to date with all these animals at home. It’s something I want to be careful about. I’m also careful about the doors. If they get out, they will come back, but there are a lot of dogs around the area. So, I’m iffy about it. I’m talking to someone I’ve known a long time now, and they enjoy him and are nice to him, so it’s nice to see.
What is most special to you about foxes?
They’re ultra playful. Everything is a game to them. They can be sassy and outspoken about what they want, but there’s no such thing as a bad day to a fox. They just play all day long. They only want to have a good time. It’s my favorite part of having them in my life.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give someone who wants to adopt a fox?
I get a lot of questions about whether they’re good pets. When you take that animal in, you’re learning what you can about their nature and giving them the best life that you can. Everyone has this fur baby idea, but they forget animals will act like animals. The best thing is to do a lot of research.