I created the viral 'Stoned Fox' – I'm a vegetarian taxidermist

I’ve always been obsessed with animals.

We had pets growing up and I was also fascinated by caterpillars. Even had a woodlouse called Tony.

He died when I was eight, so I made him a coffin out of cardboard with a gold nail varnish cross on it.

Almost 30 years on, he’s still in there, resting on a silk lining. My prized possession. But he’s not the only creature I’ve gone on to preserve.

Growing up, my mum used to take me to the museum every weekend in Cardiff to see the taxidermy Natural History display.

You may think that’s a little strange – that most kids would rather go to the zoo – but I found it so interesting to get up close with the animals’ fur and teeth.

By the time I was a teenager, I was reading books about taxidermy and when I was 18 I used those books to stuff a dead mouse.

My mum’s kitchen table became my work top (of course I put a bin bag on top of it to keep it as clean as possible). Then, with a surgical scalpel I’d bought from a craft shop, I got started.

I stuffed the mouse with cotton wool and gave him little glass beads I had lying around for eyes. Though it only took a couple of hours it was a lot harder than I’d imagined.

Even after he dried out he looked so much worse than when I first started. I can’t say I was proud of my work, but he was quite cute so I kept him on a shelf for years – until he was eaten by moths, that is.

From then on I used to practise in secret. It was nothing more than a hobby on the side of my art practice.

But in 2010 things took a turn after I bought a fox that had been caught in a bear trap.

I’ll admit, when I first opened the package – which amounted to a plastic picnic cooler and around 50 layers of cling film, a layer of bin bags and sellotape – the smell was really bad. Really bad.

Like a strong musky odour mixed with off meat and an old bin.

Many would have considered it past the point of taxidermy, but I’m glad I persevered because that fox has a better life than I have.

After working on him for a couple of months I sold him for £330 to a guy called Mike Boorman on eBay and then, out of nowhere, the listing went viral. I had sold mice here and there, but he was the first thing that made a bit of money.

Photos of the fox circulated on Facebook and Reddit before blowing up in Russia where he’d been turned into a meme.

I was even asked to go to Russia on a press tour to do an exhibition with the fox so people could take photos with him. And while that trip was fun, it also had its share of bumps.

There were protests outside the exhibition daily and St Petersburg officials tried to ban me and the fox from the city, saying I needed to be arrested and disease-tested.

People were saying I was a spy for MI5, that he was a dirty weapon.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t expecting the exhibition to be very popular, but thousands came to see the fox. I didn’t even think the fox was very good. When I made him I had a vision of how he would turn out, but he didn’t end up like that. 

I had to have an armed guard and he was displayed behind bullet proof glass. The whole thing was surreal.

Protesters tried to enlist animal rights organisations but I explained that I had been a vegetarian for 22 years and that I don’t even wear leather.

I thought it was all a joke, even when I started getting death threats from hundreds of people. It hadn’t even occurred to me that they could be real. Who would risk taking someone’s life or going to prison over a taxidermy fox?

The fox is a very special animal in Russian folklore but I still can’t really understand it.

While my adventures seemingly ended there, Mike then took the fox skydiving over Moscow and on a trip to Ibiza. He even took the fox to Creamfields festival where Calvin Harris and Fatboy Slim took pictures with him.

Things did calm down for a while and in 2012, I decided to try taxidermy professionally and joined the guild of taxidermists where I was the only woman.

Admittedly, I only lasted a year with the organisation – a lot of those guys would hunt for the animals so they got the best specimen, which is the opposite of what I do – but it hasn’t stopped me.

I use bashed up animals that would otherwise end up in landfill or be incinerated by the council, and I make something of them.

Usually, I find the animals online – people either donate them or sell them – and they get sent to me in the post.

Many think what I do is disgusting, and I get quite a lot of hate and aggression online from people who think I am abusing animals.

People have said horrible stuff. One person threatened to get a pack of dogs to assault my mum. 

I asked if they were having a hard time because that’s not very nice, and they told me they had lost their own mum and were really angry and they apologised.

Of course, anyone who knows me knows how much I love and respect animals. I couldn’t even kill a spider.

I feel an enormous responsibility towards the animals I work with. Whenever I receive a new animal to work on, I feel a bit sad – like I’m mourning them. You only get one shot and I want to do the best job I can to honour them.

Early on, I work in silence to be respectful. But later, as the animals are mounted and their personality comes back, I end up talking to them.

I say good morning to them when I walk past them and the people who buy them say the same. They are so lifelike, they end up being part of the family.

When working on them, I try to go with as little clothing as possible, but if they have lost some fur or have an injury, I might hide it with a jacket. 

The process feels like a collaborative effort; I just feel like I’m moving things around until it feels right. There is a moment I will be trying different expressions and one of them will feel right and the animal comes back to life.

What I actually do is also much less gory than preparing a steak or squid to eat. There’s hardly any blood.

At the end of the day, this is my job, my 9-5 and for the most part, my work is fairly normal. 

In 2020 a goat I made, called Billy, also went viral. I found out he was being shared in WhatsApp groups in Morocco, Argentina and Brazil alongside a rumour that he was Satan brought to life. 

Then it became this creepy meme and loads of big accounts shared it, including Lil Nas X. 

People were asking if it’s a skin walker – a harmful witch that can possess you or turn itself into an animal. I still get messaged every day about the goat. People send me photos and prayers and theories about him.

Some of it is quite funny, but I also get messages from children saying they are too scared to sleep because they think the goat is going to come and get them.

I reply saying: ‘He lives in Texas with a woman and four dogs. He’s not going to get you.’

Rest assured, I am not a member of the Illuminati, I am not a freemason, I am not in a cult and I did not summon Billy from Hell. I just love my job.

As for the original fox, I managed to buy him back for around £1,000 and have just finished restoring him. It feels really good to have him home.

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