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Step aside cats and dogs—skunks can make pretty good pets, too

Jolie Broche, 8, and Delores Rabideau with Alastor, a 2-year-old champagne-colored skunk— one of four owned by Rabideau. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
April 04, 2012 - Atlas Twp.- Delores Rabideau's pets often receive a bad rap.

Maybe they should, considering their unmistakable odor often arrives before they do.

Rabideau is the proud owner of pet skunks.

Rabideau purchased two of the skunks a few years ago from a breeder in Attica, Mich. after researching the feeding and raising of the animals for more than a year. She later took home two rescue skunks after the family learned just how challenging they were to keep.

"They are a great pet, but a lot of work," she said. "They have their own personality—like any animal they have to learn how not to bite and they have to be potty trained."

She also received permits to keep the wildlife in captivity. Skunks in the wild spray their foul-smelling fluid from the mercaptan-emitting scent glands as a defense mechanism. The glands are usually removed in pet skunks at about four weeks of age so the danger of getting sprayed is gone.

Diet is a key element in keeping the skunk both happy and healthy, she added.

"They can live up to about 10 years—that's if their diet is species appropriate," Rabideau said. "People who have skunks often feed them dog food—that takes years off their lives."

Rabideau said her skunks live on a diet of bugs, worms, crickets, raw chicken, sardines and eggs.

"They love eggs—I give them a hard boiled egg to eat in the bathtub and they just go to town on it—but it's very messy."

Rabideau said skunks are very smart and inquisitive.

"It's like having a two-year-old around the house—we keep baby-locks on the cupboards and doors. They love to cuddle and sleep in bed with you. I have one that will jump up and sleep on my lap when we're watching television," she said. "They decide where they want to go potty—I use puppy pads in different rooms. I can't let them out to go—they have no direction back to the house. They would just wander off since skunks have very poor vision."

While skunks sleep a lot and are nocturnal most of the time, they do express themselves in a variety of ways..

"They do make noises—grunts, chirps like a bird, and a high-pitched scream. They also steal items from around the house—I'll lose a sock or keys and hide them in their little den area or under the couch."

In addition to skunks, Rabideau also keeps a ferret, two cats and a tarantula, which lives in a aquarium.

"Everyone gets along pretty well," she said. "The skunks get into it with the ferret once in a while, but most of the time they stay out of each others' way."

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