Experts: Don't fear the skunks!

Jul 26, 2011

Wareham Police called in the experts Tuesday to help educate the community about a stinky situation around town: The skunk population! The experts say that skunks are not a threat to public health and advised residents not to fear the critters.

“There is such an outcry. ... We keep receiving calls relating to skunks,” said Wareham Police Lt. John Walcek, adding that many calls are coming from Onset residents about the population on that side of town. “I think people need to hear from the experts.”

The Police Department teamed up with Laura Simon of the Humane Society of the United States and John Griffin of Humane Wildlife Services. Simon has worked to resolve wildlife problems for 18 years and has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to discuss the critters. Griffin, president of Humane Wildlife Services, also has extensive experience dealing with skunks.

Walcek said there is not much the Police Department can do to control the skunk population. By law, municipal animal control officers cannot remove animals from properties unless the animals sick or injured or are a threat to public safety, said Animal Control Officer Tim Houlihan.

Both Simon and Griffin took to the streets with Lt. Walcek and Houlihan to inspect residents' properties for skunk nests and to spread the message: Don’t be afraid of the skunks! The team also hosted a presentation on skunks on Tuesday evening at the Dudley L. Brown VFW in Onset to address concerns.

“It’s rare to find a person that has been sprayed,” Simon said. “[Skunks] only spray in defense.”

Skunks will not spray randomly, the experts said. They will first provide warning signs, including sticking their tails straight up and stamping their feet.

Skunks only have a teaspoon of the pungent odor to spray at a time, Griffin added. “They don’t waste it,” he said.

Simon said skunks are attracted to human garbage, brush, and pet food. She and Griffin recommend that residents secure garbage and compost piles and feed pets indoors to help keep skunks away from homes.

If you encounter a skunk, Simon and Griffin recommend you remain calm, speak softly, and move away so the animal does not feel threatened.

Dogs are the most likely victims of being skunked because they often make sudden movements and loud noises, Simon said.

If you or your pet do happen to get a misting, Simon said she has a proven solution. Mix a quart of hydrogen peroxide, a quarter-cup of baking soda, and a teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Then wash yourself - or the sprayed victim - in the solution.

Simon warned that the solution could leave behind a rust-colored tint on the fur of furry friends. But, she said: "It works every time."

Despite their bad rep, Simon said that having skunks around is actually a good sign.

“They are not a public health issue. If skunks are there, I would say it is a healthy environment,” she said.

Skunks are great for pest control, said Simon, adding that farmers and gardeners often seek out skunks to help maintain their vegetable patches.

This isn’t the first time skunks have raised concerns among residents. Summer is offspring-rearing season for skunks, Simon explained. Mother skunks are seeking dens in crawl spaces and in enclosed porches and sheds. Therefore, skunks are more visible during the summer months.

Last summer, an unusually high number of skunks prompted the town to set traps for to capture the critters. But Simon says traps are not the best solution for controlling the population.

“Trapping doesn’t work,” she said. “If you remove skunks one year, they will come back the next year.”

Skunks are nomadic creatures, Simon added. While it may seem like they have inundated the area, they will also seem to disappear once cooler weather arrives.