When my friend, Jessica, asked if I could help a well-known animal rescue and sanctuary, I was all about it.
“What do they want me to do, a benefit or something?” I asked. “Public appearance? Book signing? Put the word out on Facebook?”
Actually, she replied, the founders of Izzie’s Pond, Greg and Angel, were looking for folks with sizable acreage that would be agreeable to allowing them to release some of the critters they’d rescued and rehabilitated.
“Well, sure!” I chirped. “Bring them out! What are we looking at, foxes? Raccoons? Hawks? We’ve seen plenty of those around.”
“Skunks,” Greg said cheerfully, as we chatted our introductions over the phone. “We’ve had so many skunks. And when you have to bottle feed up to 300 babies 6 times a day …”
And I thought parents of quintuplets had it rough. That’s a trip to the islands compared to handling critters that can spray noxious chemicals right into your eyes as you handle them every couple of hours.
The skunks that Greg wanted to release had been orphaned after someone had killed their mother when she had wandered near a stable. The kits then came under the care of Izzie’s Pond and now five months later were ready for release. Unlike other animals that require a “soft release,” meaning being kept out in an enclosure which after a spell is left open along with very little human contact until they feel secure enough to leave the enclosure and return to the wild, I learned that skunks are naturally nomadic and even though part of a litter, are solitary souls and would make their separate ways to their new lives. They are fully vaccinated (how’d you like to have that job?) against rabies, distemper and a host of diseases commonly found in dogs for 5 years — their expected lifespan.
“I’ll be happy to take your skunks,” I said a bit tentatively, pretty sure this was the only time in my life I had uttered such a statement.
“Great!” said Greg, the relief evident in his voice. “I’ll be in touch.”
Twenty-four hours later, as I was licking the icing off the plate from my slice of coconut cake at Dimitri’s (you’d better leave me a slice, greedy readers, or we’ll be having sharp words), I received a text from Greg, asking if it was all right to head on over. I wasn’t expecting to feel a little flutter in my stomach like an expectant mother when she gets the word that her surrogate has just gone into labor. Gosh, wow, right now? I’m not sure I’m ready — I haven’t tidied up the woods yet. I haven’t baby-proofed the apple orchard. I drained my coffee, jumped in the truck and high tailed it home.
In minutes, Greg and Angel headed down the drive in their Ford Transit truck and opened the back doors to reveal the large dog crate that had been covered with a drape. As Angel pulled the cloth away six sets of near-sighted (skunks have notoriously poor vision) eyes blinked with curiosity and their little snouts poked against the crate door. Their coats showed the meticulous care they had received: glossy black yet each had different variations of the trademark “Peppy Le Pew” white stripes. Well great, I thought, we can unload the crate to where the woods begin behind the house and let ‘em rip.
Er, no. What was I thinking? As they can only see about 10 feet ahead of them, they need to be near a water source. Which was the creek bed to the far, far, far left of my property. Which meant that between Angel, Greg and myself, we’d be carrying this crate quite a long way down the trail. You wouldn’t think carrying five skunks in a crate would be that heavy. But as they’re pretty much the size of cats, yes, we all broke a sweat after a few hundred yards, ducking beneath tree branches and spider webs.
At last the crate was placed carefully down on the forest floor and its door opened. I guess I was expecting them to come gamboling out, running for freedom. But they didn’t. In fact, they were exceptionally human in their reaction — they immediately started looking for something to eat. Before they even fully emerged from the crate they began digging in the leaves looking for grubs. As the three of us stepped backwards so as not to interfere, these Mr Magoo’s of the animal kingdom bumped into the crate, bumped twice into my foot, all the while foraging for food in six different directions. I had initially tensed when three of them wandered just in front of my legs and turned their bums on me, but as Angel stressed they simply don’t spray unless threatened, and when they feel threatened, they give an obvious warning: bouncing up and down on their front paws, raising their tails and actually squealing as they run towards their perceived predator. In short, a Gamecocks’ huddle.
Mission accomplished, we watched our merry group disperse into the wilderness and wished them good luck. There was no returning for them. No coming back for home cooked meals or laundry.
We could all learn a few lessons from skunks.