“Boy”, he said, “have I just had a shock!” He had just walked into the summerhouse, and suddenly found himself surrounded by a sea of black and white (A summerhouse is a screened-in structure designed to provide a shady resting place in summer. In this story, the summerhouse was used for storage of trash cans, bikes and other odds & ends.). He didn't bother to find out how many there were. He just backed out of there as fast as possible, barely touching the floor.
“Were there actually baby skunks?” I
asked, and when he said yes, I grabbed my camera and ran. I had never even seen
a live skunk, much less a baby one. He yelled after me to “Be CAREFUL!”
sure enough, there were three little ones, ambling around the summerhouse like
they owned the place (which, as far as we were concerned, they did). They were
just darling, about eight inches long, with tails the same length, so fluffy
and precious, and completely unconcerned about my being there. They were nosing
around the trash cans paying no attention to me, though I was very still.
I soon counted five altogether, and
was delighted at the way they sniffed around and played together. One was
playing with a Kleenex he'd found, trying to walk along with it. But he kept
tripping on it, so he'd stop, back up, lift his little head high, and start off
again. He would always walk up on it, though, so he ended up dragging it
sideways across the floor. Then I noticed they were coming and going through
one particularly large hole in the floor.
Now the floor in that summerhouse is very, very old and rotted through in several places. The original boards had just been laid right on the ground and nailed at the ends, so it probably wasn't very strong to begin with. Evidently Mother Skunk had burrowed under from the side and made her den under there. And her little ones were small enough to squeeze through the holes and explore inside.
Well, I watched them a while and
then tried to take a couple of pictures. First, I tossed out some pieces of
hamburger and was able, by standing poised for flight in the doorway, to snap
the picture and dart away in case they got upset. But though the flash did
startle them a little, it didn't bother them and they just kept toddling around
just like any kittens or puppies would do, sniffing at everything.
I hated to leave them, but had to
finish making supper. And during the meal got out our trusty Nature
Encyclopedia and read aloud a very interesting and informative article on our
friend, the skunk. It seems that skunks are one of the farmer’s best friends. A
mouser without peer, they are also experts at catching insects injurious to
gardens. They have no natural enemies except the great horned owl, and man. Thus,
it said, they are easily tamed. It also went on to explain that though the
skunk is much maligned because of its terrible odor, many people don't know
that it will give plenty of warning before spraying. And only when repeated
warnings are ignored does it follow up with its potent weapon.
I was fascinated. Al was unimpressed.
“They gotta go!”
no” I protested. “Not yet. They are so CUTE!”
enjoy them while you can, because they aren't staying there.”
do I really have to explain why we can't leave five skunks under the bedroom
they're such Babies.”
don't stay babies. And I'm going to get rid of them.”
yet. Wait a while”.
you imagine what would happen if Marci (almost 3) would go barging in there,
maybe pick one up, and the Mother skunk appeared? Keep the kids away, and let
me get rid of them”
So that's how things stood that
night as I went out after supper and put out a bowl of milk for them.
The next day was Wednesday, and with
Al off to work and the children occupied, I went out and found them nosing
around the front steps. They scampered off when I came out and wriggled back
under the summerhouse. I wonder if they'd given the milkman a thrill that
But I sat down inside the summerhouse and
tossed out slices of hot dog around the hole. They have the most incredible
sense of smell of any animal I've ever seen. They were soon all up out of the
den, homing in on little pieces of meat that had rolled under the woodpile...they
didn't miss a one. And this time, I counted six of them. Sometimes they would
take it back in the den to eat and I could hear little squealing
sibling-rivalry sounds coming from beneath the floorboards. I wondered what
Mother thought about all this. But she didn't appear.
Would you believe that by that
afternoon they were taking pieces of that hot dog right from my fingers? I was
so thrilled and just knew I couldn't' let Al destroy them even though I
understood his position.
Then the next morning, Thursday, I
went out with a bowl of warm milk and sat cross-legged next to it. I also took
some hamburger and some cheese.
How absolutely darling they were as
they gathered around, lapping it up with such tiny, tiny little pink tongues,
snorting as it got up their noses and in their ears. They were obviously still
nursing babies since they had such trouble drinking from a bowl. Then soon they
were all around me after the cheese, clambering over my bare feet with their
milky little paws, up onto my knees, searching in my shirt pocket. They were so
adorable I could hardly refrain from picking them up to pet. I kept pretty
still, moving slowly to feed them, talking all the time to them and trying not
to laugh as they licked, and occasionally bit, my bare toes that had milk on
I delighted in watching them. I was
amazed that six little skunks that had at first appeared identical, were really
very different. Much like any other litter of babies, I suppose. I found I
could tell them apart after a while, and so called them Petunia, Rosebud,
Honeysuckle, Peony, Sweetpea, and Stinkweed, respectively. They even seemed to
have different personalities. I'm sorry now that I named the runt of the litter
He was the least attractive of the
six, with very little white at all. But he was really the sweetest of all,
always the first one out to meet me, played with me the most, and always
brought up a tardy rear when they all disappeared, as if on cue, into the den. I
assumed that Mother had given some signal to call them.
They were just fascinating. I have never seen such tiny, delicate, dainty little feet. And their long fur is so beautiful, though rather course. They have the dearest little white thatch of fur that stands right up on top of their heads and reminds me of Dr. Zorba on the old Ben Casey program (Ben Casey was a TV medical drama that ran from 1961-1965. Dr. Zorba was portrayed by Sam Jaffe.). But when they are nervous, this lies back, as does their tail, and they aren't quite as appealing as they are when they're all fluffed up. They are quite frisky, play with each other, squeal quietly like little mice, and make up little games like pretending to be afraid of a ladybug and backing up on tiptoe with their fur all standing on end. They can walk very sedately if they try hard, but mostly they seem to bounce, like most youngsters. They are a dainty little animal. I fell completely in love with them.
I wish you could have first seen his
face, then heard him laugh. He hooted and he hollered and said “Sweetie, you're
out of your mind. Who in the world do you think would buy a SKUNK?” But I
didn't give up until he agreed “just until Monday” then, by gosh, he was going
to take care of them himself. He thought I was nuts.
But I had called the Humane Society
to find out what I could about skunks. They said they discouraged de-scenting
of skunks because so often people love exotic pets until they got big and lost
their cuteness and then let them go. And a de-scented skunk has no protection. They
also said that the musk gland doesn't fully develop in a skunk until it's about
4-5 months old and many people keep them that long, then let them go.
I also called around to find a veterinarian
who would do the job, and finally found one that would for $20 each. Most
wouldn't do it. This guy said to just pick them up by the tail (I shuddered)
and put them in a box.
“Wouldn't they stink?”
was still dubious. But at least I had the information I needed.
|Carrousel, as used in the Clarkins logo, is listed by
as the ‘less common spelling’ of carousel.
Then I made up a similar sign, sans
picture, and posted it at a garage sale going on four doors up from us. They
laughed and laughed, but let me, and the lady told me later that that sign
attracted more comments than anything else there. Those signs went up at about
At 4:00 a couple with two kids drove
in and asked “Do you really have baby skunks?” They had seen the sign at the
garage sale and couldn't believe their eyes. She said she had wanted a skunk all
her life, and her husband had said “Here's your chance.” Here they were, and I
couldn't sell her one. I wasn't sure anyone would really come that soon, and
hadn't caught any. They were all asleep under the summerhouse. So I tried to
coax them out, but no luck. And then another man, also from the garage sale
drove in. Al came out to take care of him, not really believing that anyone
could seriously want a skunk. I could see that he could hardly keep his face
straight. He said later he just had to get a close look at a person who would
pay good money for a skunk.
At any rate, I told both parties to
come back after dusk and I would have one for them then. Inside, the phone was
ringing with people calling to inquire, having seen the sign in Clarkins. At
this point Al said “I couldn't believe anyone would really want one, but if you
sell those skunks, Sweetie, I'll take you out for dinner.”
That evening, just after dusk, I
went out and called them and out ambled Stinky and Rosebud. I caught them and
put them in a birdcage, then went out and caught Peony just as the woman drove
She just raved over them, and for
some reason wanted Stinky. But I had already decided that I would sell four of
them, which would leave me $20 to keep Stinky and have him de-scented, and also
leave one baby for the mother, and we would shoo them both (carefully) away
into the woods. So she had to choose another, and she picked Rosebud.
He was such a frightened little
thing. When you pick up a little skunk they curl right up, with their back feet
on either side of their nose. It's really very appealing. He just trembled, and
she held him close and he crawled inside her blouse and snuggled in her armpit.
They have very large, blunt digging-type claws and they aren't sharp. She was
cuddling him close as they drove off, and I pocketed my $5 under Al's
unbelieving eye. The first money I've made since I've been married.
A great feeling, really. (
That evening, several curious friends came over to see Stinky and Peony and took a couple of pictures of us with them. My extremely nervous husband held Peony just long enough for the picture on the couch, and made me put them outside for the night. I had borrowed a good-sized animal cage for them, and put a small box with a small opening inside so they could burrow into it. It was filled with dried grass, and I was glad the other man didn't return so that Stinky wouldn't have to sleep alone that first night. He did call and said he'd come by Monday to get his skunk.
In the morning I caught the other three with no trouble. By this time, we decided that the Previous Sunday evening, when Al had closed the windows saying “Phew! Some skunk must have gotten it,” the mother of these babies had been killed. We never did see her, and if she had been around she never would have allowed such fooling with her babies.
We've since read that this happens
often. The mother goes out hunting for food, is hit or killed, and after
several days the little ones, who up to this time scrupulously hidden, come out
of the den in search of food. This is the time when most skunks are caught, and
if they have been still nursing, they are easily tamed. Since these little ones
had to learn to drink from a bowl, we assume they had been still nursing, too.
About 10:00 Sunday morning, Al put
up a large wooden sign out front that read “Baby Skunks for Sale” The people
driving by to church laughed their heads off. Who else but the Friedls would
But at 11:00 the first car drove in.
A young man and woman, for some reason looking dejected, rolled down the window
and asked me how much they were. When I said “$5” their faces brightened and
they literally exploded out of the car. They had picked out Sweetpea, paid me
$5 and were ready to drive off before I had a chance to ask them how much they
had expected them to be.
Well, she said as they were driving
by, she saw the sign and wanted to stop. But he said they would be too
expensive. How much? Oh, probably around $75. That's what they usually were. I
was sure surprised, but still pleased to have the little skunk in a loving
home. And they were delighted.
Al had made up copies of the article
on skunks, and we gave each customer one, along with the name and number of the
vet who would do the de-skunking operation.
Soon a young teen-aged girl and her
brother drove in. They fell in love with them, but I could tell they couldn't
afford one. But I heard them decide to go “halfsies” and they went home to get
the money. They returned and picked out Peony and said “Oh, won't Dad just go
crazy over him?” They drove off arguing who would hold him and who would drive.
Darned if they weren't back in 15
minutes. Apparently Dad had gone crazy over it, and had sent them back
with another $5 to pick out a female. He was going to raise them. So Petunia
was gone, and there was only Honeysuckle left to sell, and it was barely
But still people kept calling and driving in. Some just curious, others to tell us that they had a skunk as a pet and they were fine pets. One boy said he had a book called “How to Raise and Train A Skunk”, which he later gave me and I found it a wealth of information.
One woman called and wanted me to
hold the last one for her. But I told her first come, first served, and no
refunds. I couldn't believe they were going so fast, and would have liked to
hold the last one for the man that had been here the night before.
However, the woman bent a few speed
laws and drove in just seconds before two other cars, both wanting the last one,
too. But she was here first, so she got him. But as I was taking him from the
cage, he was the most feisty of the bunch, and he not only nipped my finger, he
let off a little stink. It was definitely skunk, but so faint that you had to
sniff to really be sure. The lady didn't care, and said her husband told her
she wasn't to come home without it. So she took him and drove off, and the
others left their names and numbers with me in case I should change my mind and
Inside, Al was answering the phone
that had been ringing off the hook, and as I went inside to re-count my $25, I
could tell he was just furious with somebody. When he hung up, he said that the
caller was a disgruntled man, recently moved to Rootstown,
who was mad at Al because Rootstown zoning won't allow him to raise beagles in
his residential neighborhood. And he blames Al, the Chairman of the Zoning
Commission, which is stupid, since zoning was in effect long before this guy
moved here. (
At any rate, he had driven by, seen
the sign, and called to inquire how much the skunks were. When Al told him, he
said “Aha! You're breaking the law. It's illegal to sell wildlife and I'm going
to report you.” Al didn't believe him, and told him so, which infuriated him.
I was absolutely astounded. I didn't
believe him either. Thursday, I had talked not only with the Humane Society,
but with the Game Warden’s mother. He wasn't home, but she went to some length
to tell me what nice pets skunks made. Also that some wild animals need a
permit, but that skunks weren't included. She said her son would call me back,
but he hadn't at this point.
But what an awful development. What
if there was a $500 fine for selling wildlife? I was sick. Five minutes later
the man called back and said “So there! I reported you to the sheriff's office
and they are going to report you to the game warden.” I talked with him this
time, and before long he felt like an absolute rat for turning me in. I told
him it simply never occurred to me that it might be against the law to sell
those skunks and I just wanted to save their lives. Then it came out that the
real reason he was mad was, not that I was breaking a law, but that I was
giving them away for $5. It seems he owned a pet shop and used to sell them for
around $65 and sometimes more (de-scented of course) and I was spoiling the
business. He also became quite friendly and game me a number of tips on caring
But then right away I called the
Game Warden again. I just had to know if there was a law against it. Again, he
wasn't home, but I told his mother about it, and she again promised he'd call
But to this day I've never heard
another word about it from anyone. (Except the guy that complained had the gall
to call me several weeks later and ask for a favor. Hard to believe.)
But back to Stinkweed. At first,
with all his brothers and sisters gone, he was a lonesome little baby. He loved
to be held and petted, and always tried to snuggle inside my blouse or under my
arm. I was still nursing Alan and perhaps he could smell the milk. In fact, I
soon read that though skunks love milk, it gives them severe diarrhea, and not
to give it to them.
like many animals, have a doggy fur odor, so a little pet shampoo and cedar
chips in his box helped that. But he needed so much attention that I really
have time to sit and hold him. And I didn't want the kids to play with him
until I could get him de-scented so I made up a little apron that was really a
fuzzy pile-lined pocket that I wore on a belt, with a strap around my neck. I
carried him around in that, next to me, while I did my housework. That suited
him fine. He would poke his head out and supervise, or else snuggle deep inside
and sleep. I had to be careful when picking up Alan, but it really worked out
fine and satisfied his craving to be near you. I won't comment here on Al's
opinion of this.
It was pretty startling for a few of our
friends, though, who dropped by not knowing about the skunks. One girl patted
the pocket thinking it a rolled-up apron, and saying something about how hard I
must be working. Stinky stuck out his head to see what was happening and she
nearly fell backward down the steps. There just is no way of mistaking a skunk,
The first question that's always
asked is “Has he been, you know...can he spray?” and when I say “no” they
always step back a few steps just in case. But soon most are completely won
over, the one notable exception being my husband. He made me keep him outside
at night, which I agreed to do, at least until after he had been de-skunked.
Unfortunately, about 10 days later,
some big animal apparently got into the summerhouse, knocked over two full
trash cans and the cage, which sprung the door, and Stinky disappeared.
I was just sick. I was so afraid he
had been killed, or if he'd escaped, might die since he was too little to take
care of himself. I hoped he had hidden under the summerhouse again, so I put
out food just in case. I was delighted when it kept disappearing, but was soon
disappointed to find the cat was eating it.
I had worried about the cat's
reaction to the skunks, but was vastly relieved to find that the cat had a
healthy respect for skunks and kept its distance.
However, one night I decided to keep
watch by the den entrance, and did, for an hour. No sign of life, because even
though it was dark, I was sure I'd have heard him if he'd come out. Yet when I
turned on the flashlight, the cheese had disappeared. I put down some more and
stood right there until I thought I heard just the slightest whisper of sound. I
flashed on the light just in time to catch a glimpse of a white streaked nose
disappearing back under the boards. After that, I always fed him in the
evenings and waited while he ate, but whatever it was had really scared him
because he wouldn't come out all the way while I was there. Several times I
could have caught him, but I didn't. I wish now I had. I could see he was
growing bigger every day.
One sad morning two weeks later I
found him on the road out front, hit by a car, and very dead. I hated to
believe it was him, but I had gotten to know him so well that there wasn't the
slightest chance that it was any other. I find it hard to explain how much I
grieve for him. He was just such a baby and hardly had a chance. I think I will
always have a soft spot in my heart for skunks.
Al thinks it's in my head. Once,
while driving along past one recently hit, the smell was overwhelming. But I
found myself saying, “That's not really too bad.” and getting a murderous look
from my husband.
I think he still puts skunks in the
“Varmint” class. Though I must say I did overhear him telling another
unbeliever very earnestly that skunks really are ideal pets, especially for
apartments. They are very quiet animals, won't bark or whine to go out, are
very easily toilet trained (they are) and won't scratch and claw furniture like
a cat. They are very friendly and playful if caught early enough. I just wish
we had had a chance to prove it with Stinky.
Now the summerhouse has a whole new
floor, a nice solid cement. Al ripped out the old floorboards, and found the
leaf-lined nest and a baby possum in it (which finally ran away.) Then he poured
the new floor so other families wouldn't dig under it. I had seen a young
woodchuck peeking out from under it the day I last saw Stinky. I don't' mind
the wildlife making their homes close by. Today I saw a little chipmunk in the
garage. Better not tell Al, though.
I did keep in touch with the woman
who bought the last little skunk. I went over to visit him a month or so later,
in August. He had grown so much he just wasn't a baby anymore. I had a few
pictures taken with him, and while he was okay, he just wasn't my little
And as a final note, yes, Al really
did take me out for dinner. To one of the nicest places in town, and we enjoyed
it very much. We both agreed that all in all, it had been an exciting time. And
that, I think, is the end of our skunk adventure. Except for my deciding what
to buy with my $25.