A mum-of-two has hand-reared a fox cub which she lets play with her young children – despite it having a tendency to nip strangers.
Natalie Reynolds, 35, keeps Jasper the fox with her three dogs, cat and horses at their home and even takes it out for walks on a lead.
But despite her insisting the eight-month-old fox is domesticated, an animal charity argued keeping the wild animals as pets is wrong as they belong in the wild.
The stay-at-home mum admits getting “strange looks” from dog-walkers when she walks Jasper near an affluent rural village in Herts., which was popular with fox-hunters.
Natalie, whose son Chace, 3, and Marissa, 5, play with Jasper in their back garden, said: “They get such bad press but he’s around my children and he just plays with them.
“He’s got a different bond with me. He’s not so great with my partner.
“He’s like a cross between a cat and a dog. He’s part of the pack. The dogs chase him around, he loves the cat but the cat isn’t too fond of him.
“I always walk him on the lead – he’s so domesticated. A lot of people look down their noses at you. Some people are disgusted but most people are good about it.
“I’ve been told they are very versatile and that he could be released back into the wild but their average lifespan in the wild is just 18 months – they either get shot, poisoned, snared or hunted.”
The family adopted Jasper when he was two-days-old from a veterinary surgery in another village in Herts.
He was handed in after being abandoned by his mother and mistaken for a tiny puppy.
Natalie said: “One of my friends called me, she’s a veterinary nurse and she gave me a call to say they had just had a fox cub handed in and that he would need hand-rearing because he needed bottle-feeding every couple of hours.
“I was up every two hours in the night with him – it was like breastfeeding my children.
“The first week or two it was through the night, I would have to get up and feed him until it progressed to getting him downstairs and he was in a crate downstairs like a puppy would be.
“Around four months-old we build him an outdoor enclosure which suited him very much better because he was just going around the house causing a lot of mischief.
“He’s got freedom as in he runs around free in the garden, he’s not caged.
“He’s only in there for night-time and for his own safety so it’s not like I’m just keeping him captive in a cage.
“He does have his sense of freedom and we do go on walks and things.
“People are always going to judge no matter what you do.”
The family built an enclosure for Jasper, who she admits is “just not a household pet” as he “smells”, in their back garden garage at their 1/3 acre property where neighbouring houses are valued at more than £1.5m on average.
The enclosure has wooden shelves and bedding for Jasper to play with and he regularly plays with her young children on a trampoline in the garden during the day.
Natalie said Jasper often scavenged for roadkill on his walks in woodland.
She said locals who were fox-hunting supporters who saw them give her “strange looks”.
But Jasper has nipped at strangers and Natalie said she would never recommend anyone else keep such a wild pet.
“We’re very fortunate that we have the stuff to keep him here but it’s not something I would advise in any way,” she added.
“I don’t want people to go out and think ‘this is great’. He’s not good in a domestic situation, he smells.
“They are just not a household pet.”
Martin Brookes, of Vale Wildlife Hospital, said there was a growing trend of keeping wild foxes as pets.
Speaking of a pet fox that was handed into the charity hospital which was being “taught” to be wild again, he said: “When he first came out here he was literally running up to the care assistants climbing your legs.
“It’s not good for the fox, it’s no good for the species.
“Some foxes are being traded for £100s.”