Mikayla Raines has always loved animals, but it wasn't until she was 15 years old that she found her true calling – foxes.
Fast-forward seven years and the 22 year old keeps foxes for a living, saving them from fur farms and raising them herself so they can be adopted or sponsored by like-minded folk and wildlife organizations across the country.
This unusual passion has seen her dubbed the "fox whisperer," and she has a social media following of more than 28,000 people on Instagram.
She spends much of her time at the outdoor sanctuary she helped create for the foxes on land owned by her mother in Lakeville, where they can play among the logs, trees and undergrowth surrounded by 400-feet of fencing.
There are five red foxes of varying breeds currently on the farm – Casper, Farrah, Envy, Tonia and Finnegan – with a sixth, Notchi, having escaped in January and still prowling around southeast Minnesota.
Saving the foxes – and raising them
Although she says fur farms have been on the decline recently, there are enough still around the Midwest to keep Raines saving foxes.
"In the fur farms, a fox typically has eight pups or kits. The environments that foxes are in are very stressful, so they typically do not raise the full litter of kits [and] they reject the other half, so the fur farm will give me the rejected kits," she said.
"They also give me the foxes that are a bit deformed. Last year I got one with a missing tail and one without a foot ... they would have killed [the footless one] if I didn't rescue her."
"They'll chew on everything, they'll dig in your couches. You have to really fox-proof your house if you want one inside."
Raines says she's saved, raised and re-homed about a dozen over the past year – and most of them she bottle-raises herself, which requires feeding them every three hours for two weeks.
This is better, though, as it enables the fox to "imprint" with her and they are much friendlier as a result.
Now they're older, they feed on a combination of dog food, cat food, fresh meat and – since they're omnivorous – vegetables.
Raines describes them as being as energetic and playful as dogs, but as stubborn as cats.
"They do what they want," she says.
A full-time job
"I don't make a profit," Raines says, saying she nannies on the weekends to supplement her own income.
Some people sponsor the foxes for $80 per month, plus $350 payment every year. She also receives adoption fees that start at $400, but may go higher depending on the breed.
"Everything I get for the foxes goes back into the foxes. It goes into the housing, the fencing, goes into everything I do for them, all their vaccines," she says.
Sanctuaries and zoos are among those that have adopted the foxes, while individuals with USDA fox licenses like her also adopt them – though most will keep them outdoors.
"They're very destructive," she says. "They're like a puppy that never grows up ... they'll chew on everything, they'll dig in your couches. You have to really fox-proof your house if you want one inside."
Next, public access?
Last year she was given permission by Lakeville City Council to keep the foxes, and now she's hoping to raise more money so she can make improvements that will eventually lead to opening the enclosure up to public tours.
The outdoor area needs some new double doors to make it harder for the foxes to escape, while their cages are only partially finished, with plywood being used as a roof.
She also wants to install a walkway so people don't have to track through the mud as they pay the foxes a visit.
You can learn more about Raines and her foxes, as well sponsor or donate to help with their upkeep, improve their home and help Raines rescue more foxes, by visiting her website SaveAFox.org.
You can also find her GoFundMe page here.