These skunks are cuddly, not stinky

Skunks have a reputation that precedes them.

And, it’s not particularly flattering.

Delilah (front) and Pepe sit on Kat Wysocki’s lap during a reading program at the Lutz Branch Library. Wysocki is from Florida Skunk Rescue. (Mary Rathman)

It’s no secret that they are known for their ability to smell up a place with their spray.

Florida Skunk Rescue, however, is working to help dispel the negative perception that many have about the furry creatures.

Recently, Kat Wysocki, vice president of the rescue organization, brought some skunks to the Lutz Branch Library for a “Reading Doesn’t Stink” presentation.

The program, for kindergarteners through third-graders, was a way to add some fun to reading, while educating kids about skunks.

Children and their parents embrace friendly skunks, while Kat Wysocki reads a story about the furry animals.

“We rescue and foster them, and then we find forever homes for the ones that can be adopted out,” Wysocki said.

Granted, these are not the typical skunks found in the wild. Instead, they are skunks that have been domesticated.

The rescue team only rescues skunks that serve as pets and that have been abandoned, or must be given up by their owners.

The domesticated skunks typically are raised on farms and sold in pet stores.

Kat Wysocki of the Florida Skunk Rescue helps to retrieve pet skunks like Lily.

The rescue organization has locations in Hudson and St. Petersburg, but provides services throughout Florida.

“We’ve picked up skunks as far as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and all the way up to Tallahassee,” Wysocki said.

Florida is among several states that allow skunks to be treated as pets.

During the library presentation, parents and library staff were initially reluctant to  to hold the furry creatures.

But, children soon were smiling, as they held and petted the skunks.

The visiting skunks did not spray anyone — they couldn’t

The scent glands are removed from domesticated skunks when they are 2 weeks to 3 weeks old.

Lily is an example that domesticated skunks don’t have to stink but can be friendly.

Removing the scent glands prevents the release of the odor that skunks spray as a defense mechanism, Wysocki said.

Besides skunks that have been abandoned, some skunks at the shelter were placed there by owners who moved to another state, where it’s illegal to have pet skunks.

When the rescue organization takes in a skunk, it undergoes an evaluation by a veterinarian, and is quarantined for any contagious diseases.

The rescue team uses public events and social media to help spread the word that there are skunks available for adoption.

Not all of the pet skunks they take in can be adopted out. Some pet skunks have been abused or have medical issues; others are too old.

The lifespan of a striped skunk is 10 years when under human care, and seven years when in the wild, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

Pepe is one of the skunks who garners attention from both kids and adults. The furry animals were a part of a presentation at the Lutz Branch Library, on Nov. 19.

Skunks enjoy eating worms, crickets and quail eggs, Wysocki said. At the shelter, the team will treat them to omelets, too, she added.

She said domesticated skunks often roam like cats and form unique relationships with their owners.

“A lot of these guys come from loving homes,” she added. “They’re extremely sensitive and they bond with their people. It’s almost childlike.”

During the skunks recent visit to the library, it was apparent that the children were connecting with the animals.

They took turns holding the three visiting skunks.

Adults also warmed up to the animals, as the program went on.

As Wysocki read a book on skunks to the children, their attention would momentarily shift from the story to the furry friends they were holding.

Two-year-old Rocco Cracchiolo is quick to make friends with the furry Pepe.

The rescue organization wants to introduce young children to wildlife, and help them develop a fascination for reading.

And, the organization makes presentations at schools and museums.

The skunks also can be therapeutic when presented at nursing homes or to those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

However, Wysocki emphasized that it’s a good idea, in general, to be cautious around skunks.

For instance, it’s important to keep your fingers away from the animal’s mouth: It might mistake it for food and bite it.

She also said there are clues when wild skunks are getting ready to spray. It may stomp its feet, puff up its body, charge or pull up its tail.

Wysocki said the rescue organization welcomes the opportunity to offer presentations.

“We never pass up an opportunity to educate,” Wysocki said. “We are big believers that the more you teach kids to love and understand animals – at this age – the more compassionate adults they will become.”

Published December 04, 2019

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