After a two-week search in the Hattiesburg area, Jeff the wallaby was finally found and has returned home.
The unusual pet made headlines in recent weeks after the two-year-old wallaby went missing on March 13 while owner Logan Whitehead and his girlfriend Kayla Graham were visiting Walt Disney World.
“My roommates took the grill from the backyard because they didn’t want [Jeff] to lick it and burn his mouth while they were cooking,” Whitehead said. “[So instead] they grilled in the front yard and thought they closed the gate. They went to check the burgers and the gate was wide open. They just didn’t close it all the way.”
Whitehead and Graham learned that the pet went missing while waiting in line for a ride at Disney. Graham said people were angered the couple did not leave immediately once they learned their pet was missing.
“We couldn’t leave because we were with my family and on my sister’s senior trip,” Graham said.
A post on Facebook by one of Whitehead’s friends was seen by WDAM, who first aired the story about the lost wallaby. The search for Jeff soon became a community effort with several businesses offering rewards for the return of the beloved animal; Parris Jewelers offered a $250 gift certificate and Magnolia Grille offered a free dinner for two. Several sightings sparked the local phenomenon into a social media craze.
Jeff was finally caught by Katherine Smith on March 28 after she lured Jeff into her yard with food, which was a great relief for both Graham and Whitehead.
Whitehead believes that Jeff was fine during the search and thinks that all he did was graze on grass mostly near his home.
On social media, people wondered why Whitehead even had such a pet to begin with. Hattiesburg resident Danielle Edwards wrote on Facebook, “There’s literally no reason for someone to have a pet wallaby. I hope someone finds him and gets him to a sanctuary somewhere.”
Whitehead said he has always had an interest in owning an exotic pet.
To own a wallaby in Mississippi, an owner must obtain a USDA permit. Only 11 other states institute this policy as a requirement to own as an exotic pet like a wallaby. USDA guidelines require that the owners keep a record of the food, housing, heating system and general care of the wallaby in addition to receiving an annual vet inspection.
Whitehead explained that finding someone who sells wallabies was not an easy thing and that he found a breeder by word of mouth.
“I had to get my [wallaby] from a private breeder that sells to zoos,” Whitehead said. “A lot of private breeders don’t have websites because the zoos just know who they are so it was really hard to find them.”
Whitehead found a breeder in Louisiana who sells wallabies to zoos and bought his companion for $1500 instead of the initial $2500 price. As for Jeff’s name, Whitehead decided to give his exotic pet a name that was different by giving him a normal human name.
Though Jeff has returned home safely, he left an impression on the Hattiesburg community.
Whitehead and Graham decided to hold a meet-and-greet with Jeff to satisfy the Hattiesburg community’s interest in the wallaby. The owner said he believed that the people who followed the story and helped look for Jeff deserve to meet him.
“We’ve had 850 people sign up so far,” Whitehead said. “The skating rink in Oak Grove got Priority One Bank to sponsor the event the so the skating rink has just given us the rink for the day.”
Whitehead and Graham are accepting donations that will go towards Jeff but insisted that they are not profiting off the event. They are accepting old t-shirts, toys and [monetary] donations for the wallaby’s benefit. Graham and Whitehead also plan to buy Jeff a tracker collar and renovate their fence to avoid further incidents.
“If you just show up, you get a get a free decal that says ‘I heart Jeff,’” Graham said. “Then if you donate 10 dollars or more you get a free t-shirt [from Magnolia Graphics] that are Jailbreak Jeff shirts. You can also donate diapers (size large) and toys and t-shirts to help him out. The event itself is free.”
The meet-and-greet with Jeff the wallaby is scheduled for April 14 from 9 a.m to 12:30 p.m. at the Extreme Skate Zone in Oak Grove.