A joyous little fox named Juniper, who joined all the cats and dogs on the list of 2017's most-Instagrammed pets, is about to become a star of the book world thanks to her human BFF Jessika Coker, who will release Juniper: The Happiest Fox via Chronicle Books in March, followed by a 2019 wall calendar in July.
In the meantime, Jessika, who originally drove from Florida to Indiana to adopt Juniper as a kit, is also busy working on creating the foundation for a future exotic animal sanctuary, which is currently accepting donations. The idea for the book came about two years ago right after Juniper first started going viral.
"We had a literary agent reach out to us and I remember reading the email that he sent, he was like, 'Hey, I think your story would make an excellent book and that people would be really interested in it and we'd love to talk more about it,'" Jessika told Unleashed. "And at that time, because she had just gone viral, I was drowning in emails and I remember that one being so special I actually cried. I was like, that's like the most incredible thing that's ever happened. It's been a neat experience."
Jessika even did all the photos herself of Juniper, her fox friend Fig and her dog buddies.
"The foxes are actually really skittish so I’ve never had professional pictures taken of them but I actually used to do photography for Petco so I’ve dabbled in photography and I do all of the pictures and I put them all together myself."
Working with foxes behind the camera has given her some good insight for all pet owners who want to take photogenic images.
"Know what your animal is interested in," she advised. "If they’re treat motivated make sure you keep their attention with treats or if they are more toy motivated make sure you have a toy if your trying to take really good pictures. The more you work with them on that, like Juniper for instance, she has done this for so long she knows that when I whip my phone out or whip the camera out, it's a great time, we're about to have treats and toys and attention. So she’ll sit there and she knows to stare at the camera, and we do Polaroids of her occasionally to raise money for the sanctuary that I’m trying to start and she actually is so used to it that she knows as soon as it flashes she can get up and she’ll get up and walk to me to get the treat but she'll sit there perfectly still staring at the camera until it flashes."
For now, she's navigating the mountains of paperwork that are involved with trying to create an exotic animal sanctuary, which is exponentially harder than working with cats and dogs.
"You have to have several different licenses to even work with exotics," she explained. "So my goal is to aim more towards exotic animals because there are a lot of dogs and cats that need help too but I feel like there are a lot of shelters for cats and dogs and when it comes to the exotic animals that are in the pet trade there just aren’t as many places for them to go."
A big part of the problem is that people bite off more than they can chew when they take in an exotic animal and have no experience. (Jessika herself has worked in zoos and animal rehabs.)
"I see a lot of people get these animals and they think, 'This is going to be a cool pet' and they keep it until about the time it reaches maturity and whenever exotic animals reach maturity they start to act more like wild animals," she explained. "So once they hit that point they want to re-home these animals and a lot of them don't have places to go. Another thing I see a lot is people will get them and they don't understand the laws that come along with owning one. So a lot of times people will own them illegally then the State Department of Natural Resources has to step in and seize the animal and they don't have anywhere to go and a lot of exotic shelters or zoos are already full so I’m just hoping that we’ll be able to get a decent plot of land to be able to home a variety of animals."
Juniper looks like a ton of fun to take care of, but follow her on Instagram and you'll soon learn that you probably do not want to actually own a fox, which has "hot breath" (as Jessika is known to say), a strong odor and a not-so-charming tendency to mark everything in the house.
"In the book I think I make it pretty clear that there are a lot of trials that come with living with an animal like this and you have to commit to it," she said. "Your lifestyle completely changes. I do make that point in the book but I do worry about the pictures and the videos that I take on instagram or on social media whether they circulate and people get the wrong idea. They see this gorgeous fox in a house and they're like, 'I want a fox in my house too.' But I’ve been doing the question and answers of what the negative things are or what you need to look at, the reality of it, for so long that so many people have actually seen it. And even when our video or pictures get reposted on different sites and it doesn’t contain that message, the people who have been following us for a long time are always, in anything I see online, they're always there to correct the people who are like, 'I want a pet fox' and they come in and they’re like, 'Well actually, no you don't' because of this reason, this reason and this reason. That's been really rewarding to see that people are not only just enjoying my photography or our videos or our animals, they’re also learning from it as well."
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