Passing the Smell Test

Skunks as pets? You bet. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Q: Is there really a skunk rescue organization in Florida?

A: Shortly after Orlando magazine’s pet issue was published in September, Answer Man received an email from Brenda Hoch of Florida Skunk Rescue asking if we would consider doing a story on skunks as pets. She also mentioned an upcoming October skunk show in Kissimmee. 

Florida Skunk Rescue?

Skunk show? 

Revelations indeed. Answer Man’s exposure to skunks up to now has been limited to childhood—watching cartoon character Pepé Le Pew’s misguided amorous advances toward a cat.

But skunks make great pets, Hoch says. She should know: She and husband Don have 21 of them living under their roof in Hudson, north of Tampa.

We should stop here and say that these mammals are not of the malodorous variety. Domestic skunks have their scent glands removed by breeders when they are just a few weeks old.

But like all pets they need rescuing at times, because they have been abandoned, or their owners are unable to care for them or are moving to a place where skunks aren’t allowed (Florida is one of 14 states where having a skunk as a pet is legal, although you need a permit from the state wildlife agency). And as with other pets, the rescue group is always seeking potential skunk parents. 

Until the skunks find homes, Hoch and a network of other volunteers across the state act as foster parents. And if homes can’t be found, the volunteers often end up keeping the homeless animals permanently. In fact, of the 21 skunks that Hoch and her husband have, 19 are or were foster skunks; only two were purchased at pet stores (the Hochs were hooked when they saw their first baby skunk at a store).

So what are skunks like? “Very intelligent and affectionate,’’ Hoch says. “It’s not unusual for me to have four or five of them sitting in my lap while I’m watching TV.’’ They have an excellent sense of smell but just so-so eyesight. They can use a litter box just like a cat (corner of the room preferred). They come in varieties besides black and white—brown, albino and spotted, to name a few.

They are obsessed with food. “For a skunk, it’s always dinnertime,’’ Hoch says, and so they eagerly greet their owners when they return home. And squeal a bit at one another as they jostle for position around the food bowls. Hoch’s  menu is usually fresh vegetables ground to the consistency of coleslaw, topped with a little shredded cheese and a few drops of olive oil (for their coat and skin). And they like to snack on Cheerios.

So would Hoch ever consider adding to her big brood?

“If I had to,’’ she says laughing. “It can get a little crowded, especially around dinnertime.’’

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