The Weird, Wild World of Skunk Owners

I’ve had cats, I’ve had dogs,
I’ve had gerbils, I’ve had rabbits. But skunks grab your heart. For those of you,
new to the Skunk Fest, we see lots of new faces
this year, which is great. So if we can start having
everyone show up by the tent with your skunks in your arms,
our judges are getting ready to start judging for
Skunk Fest 2017. He gets extra points
for being so cute! Have you had fun today
at the Skunk Fest? Yes, this is the best
day of my life. They’re the best things ever. Who can top the Steampunk skunk? So are you here with Pepe this year? No, unfortunately, she got
murdered and decapitated. Hot dogs have been reduced to $2! We just arrived in Ohio, it’s
the day before the Skunk Fest. It’s a convention where people
from around the country get together and
bring their skunks. I’ve been told hundreds of
skunks show up here, if not more. So we’re going to
head over and meet Deb, the brains and skunk lady
behind the entire operation. -Hey!
-Hello! How’s it going? Yeah, we’re just trying to figure
out where everything is going. It takes hours and hours to put
the whole Skunk Fest together, but we’re trying to make
sure everything goes right, so we have a fun day tomorrow. What is the general vibe
like at the convention? Everybody’s happy to
show off their skunks. People are proud of their
animals, it’s competition too. And they’re happy to meet–
This skunk right here, won queen of Skunk Fest,
five years in a row. We have a former Queen Skunk
right here among us? Yes, she’s the former queen.
She lost her crown last year. And my skunk won
the crown last year. -From the queen right here?
-From the queen. Is there any sort of like
competitive vibes at all, or is it– -Oh, it’s definitely competitive.
-It gets competitive here? -Yes.
-But they’re still friends. They’re still friends? Yes. At the end of the day? At the end of the day, yeah. And is this the largest
convention for skunks? That we know of. Yes, this is the largest
skunk convention in… In the world! Actually,
in the world. We’re the largest skunk
convention in the world. To best prepare myself for
the largest skunk convention in the world, I wanted to learn the
ins and outs of all things skunk. So Deb told me to meet
up with Dr. Krupka, a veterinary expert in
the pet skunk universe. So at what point in
your career as a vet did you become
involved with skunks? It was pretty early on,
right out of vet school, that’s when I first met Deb,
she asked me if I could do a procedure on a skunk.
For a number of years, I did the descenting procedure here
as well, but most of the time now, they’re coming out of the breeding
facilities already descented, so they can live in our houses
without the risk of spraying us. What exactly is the process of,
what’s, do you call it, descenting– Descenting, yeah. So the anal gland, on either side
of the rectum there’s a gland on either side, and when the skunk
sprays they actually kind of squeeze the muscles around the rectum,
causes the liquid to shoot out at you. So we take out that gland,
so they can’t spray. So essentially go inside the
skunk’s ass and you remove– -Yes.
-A gland– We’re going in and removing the gland
right from the source of the stink. And it’s a very steep learning
curve, you quickly learn how to do that procedure, so
when you screw up, you know in less than a
heartbeat that you screwed up. Typically, day to day when
it comes to people bringing their skunks in, what kind of
owners are you dealing with? Often times, owners are looking
for just that wow factor, but the people that are really into
the skunks have multiple skunks as pets, they think
of them as a child. And they’ll put clothes on them,
they have them living in their houses, they’re sleeping in their beds,
so these people are definitely dedicated to their pets. Thank you very much.
Hi baby! Whoa! So this is not a
traditional color one. You’ll see lots of
colors at Skunk Fest. This would be a brown and white. So the most traditional color
is your black and white skunk. -Yeah, it almost looks like a ferret.
-White, boy. Oh, you can see it’s a boy because
of, testicle things right there. Yeah. So yeah, kind of a
ferret looking face to him. Yeah. -He’s pretty cute.
-Yeah, yeah! Cute little guy. And I’ve been told
I’m probably not supposed to go too close to the skunk. So, right. So we try not to let
people pet skunks by their face in case they bite, but if you want
to go ahead and pet the tail end… You’re little tail…
Ah! Just kidding. Pretty soft, huh? Yeah! And it’s actually,
the tail it’s a bit firm. It is. It’s a little bit coarser
fur on the tail, correct, yeah. Why Ohio for the Skunk Fest? Well, we’re blessed to have
Skunk Haven, right here in Ohio, in North Ridgefield, Ohio. Just so
happens to be that she’s 20 minutes from the practice, I have the
ability to work with these guys, so that’s how we kind
of formed this alliance. I happen to be in the right state, I help Deb with Skunk Haven
in the same state as well. Deborah Cipriani started
Skunk Fest back in 2001, as a way to help
fund Skunk Haven, a skunk rescue she
runs out of her home. And I heard she’s got about
50 skunks in her house right now. This is cool. -Hi, Deb.
-Hi, welcome to Skunk Haven. Thank you for having us! Now, everybody is
running around… No, no, no, no, no! No, come on, guys!
It is feeding time, so they’re kind of
scurrying around. Go over there and make
sure the doors are shut. So be careful, they
do not move for you. You have to move for them, because
you have to adapt to their lifestyle, make sure they don’t go out.
People have… It’s very hectic, just… So what’s a normal day like for you,
in taking care of all these skunks? Oh, it’s a long day.
That’s what a normal day is! I get up at 3:30 in the morning,
I start my morning to feed every single skunk and
clean every single litter box. I feed the skunks twice a day,
I do this twice a day. -Twice a day?
-Three hours, twice a day. So six hours of the day, just
devoted to feeding the skunks. Feeding and cleaning
every single litter box. It’s a very long day, and then
I answer the phone calls that, people might need help
with their pet skunks. So this is a 24 hours,
seven days a week… Love of skunks that I have
to help my skunks and help everybody around the world
with their pet skunks. Okay, I’m going back and
forth, back and forth. And I do have a regular job,
I work at TA Travel Centers, the truck stop, at home office,
at customer service dealing with truck drivers’ issues. Which is another stressful job. Guys, I really got to feed in a
hurry, because my skunks are… They’re starting to get hypoglycemic
and that’s what happens. So I really got to hustle,
and I’m sorry about that. Oh, no problem, no, no. That’s a sign of, when they’re
vomiting bile, they’re very hungry. Pretty soon, some of my
skunks might start seizuring [seizing] so we have to go on fast mode. I feel like a waiter at a
skunk restaurant right now. Yeah. Whoa, there are two in that cage? -Yeah, they’re brothers.
-Brothers? So what initially drew
you to get a skunk, as opposed to a
more traditional pet? I came out to Ohio and I
seen skunks in a pet store, and in the year
2000 my mom died, and I bought my first
skunk to fill the void. So yes, it’s a very special bond
between skunk and human companion. It’s just very surprisingly quiet in
here, and you just hear the scurry… Which one do you need, Deb? I need paper towels that are
right here. Come this way. -Gotcha.
-Right here. Is there a skunk down there? Yeah, there’s a couple skunks. I’m going to have to– These ones just kind of hang
out under the computer desk? Yes. What are the legalities
of owning a pet skunk? Most states you have to have
a permit to own a pet skunk. If a skunk does nip
somebody and it is turned in, its head will get chopped
off and tested for rabies. So that’s the big thing with our pet
skunks and why we don’t let people, one of the reasons why we
don’t let people touch our skunks. So I’ve been hearing a lot about
this whole king and queen thing, from Skunk Fest.
What is that all about? It’s stiff competition, and
it’s overall confirmation, what they’re going to do is
look at the white to make sure the white is white and not orange,
they’re going to feel to make sure the body weight is the
correct body weight. And then they’re going to,
normally, what I do is push the tail up, because that
puffs the tail up and that’s good for competition, but I
don’t tell people what I do because I’m in competition myself. And… This was actually the
queen from last year. So she is going to be up
against all the other competitors to see if she can keep her crown. So it’s very stiff competition. But it’s a big family of
people who own skunks. That just want to gather
and meet each other and see each other once a year. So the skunks are bringing people
together and it’s a big skunk family. Deb’s house was a bit intense, but after seeing her
dedication and passion for skunks, I was pretty stoked to make
some more furry friends. And finally we’re at Skunk Fest. Although skunk ownership is
relatively rare, since it is illegal in most states, hundreds of people
still travel from across the country to share their love of skunks
and enter them in a competition. Who are these people? How could they possibly
love skunks so much? And most importantly,
who will take the crown? I’m here to find out. First time up here.
Love it, it’s very nice here. Yes. She’s four months old,
so she’s my baby. And I’m mommy. And she loves to give kisses. Come on, give kisses!
Except when you want her to. -That make sense.
-It’s like a kid! -So, he or she?
-He, Smudge. -Mudge?
-Smudge. Yeah, he’s got a smudge on his
white stripe so yeah, it’s Smudge. We actually got it from Deb,
she’s got the Skunk Haven. Are many of the skunks
from her around here or do they come from all over? They come from different breeders,
there’s quite a few breeders, more down south. What’s your favorite thing
about owning a pet skunk? How different it is, I guess. You don’t really see
people, just on a regular, so I mean, it’s different. Yes, my name is
Tonya Poindexter Vaughn and this is my first year
here at Skunk Fest, but the way I got involved
with skunks was last year, when I rescued a skunk,
and that was Pepe. -Pepe?
-Uh-huh. So are you here with Pepe this year? No, unfortunately, she got seized from me, and
murdered and decapitated and brought back to me. What’s the story behind that? How does a skunk end up
getting murdered and decapitated? Well, I had a family member come
over to my house in October, my niece, it’s who it was. She later told me
that Pepe nipped her. My sister called me and said
that it was going to have to be put down to be tested for rabies. And the Fish and Wildlife
Department took Pepe, and about an hour
and a half later, they brought her back to me
in a bag, she was still warm, she did not have a head. And I sat on my couch and I
held her for four hours, crying. And had to bury her. That’s… Really awful to hear
how it happened. Yeah, and there’s a big following
for my Promises for Pepe campaign that I’ve got going on,
and laws need to be changed. It would save all these animals. Thank you for sharing with us, hopefully there will
be change, eventually. -Okay, thank you, I appreciate it.
-Thank you so much. All right, everybody, we’re
going to get started here, our judges have arranged themselves
underneath the green tent, and our judges are getting ready
to start the process of judging for Skunk Fest 2017. So the judging has began,
they have their clipboards, they have their skunks. They seem
to be kind of lifting up the tail, checking out, how the
tail goes on a skunk, they’re kind of just observing
the skunk from all different angles. It’s a little tense over here, like,
the judges are pretty serious. They’re not really
cracking many jokes, they’re kind of just standing
there with their clipboards and, determination in their
eyes of finding the best skunk. The judges are looking at the
overall health, body shape and general cleanliness. I wouldn’t say the stakes are high, but, the winners do
get a literal crown and bragging rights on
Facebook for an entire year. All right, we’re looking
for our last couple entries for king and queen
of Skunk Fest 2017. This is Clarkson. Clarkson? Well hello
there, Clarkson. Is Clarkson about to
enter the contest? Yes, he is. What are your
expectations out there? Sincerely, I expect they’ll
say he’s pretty but he’s too fat. He’s a little large, I guess.
He’s got a big fat tail too. Yes, yes he does. Is there any competitive
vibes or not really? I used to show dogs, and this
is nothing like showing dogs. People are much nicer. Are you about to go up
there with your skunk? I believe so, finally. I hope to win, but there’s probably,
to be honest, there’s probably other skunks that are going to
score higher than my Ziggy will, but I love him regardless. Well, good luck out there. Thank you. Why hello there, former
queen from last year. She’s up for stiff
competition this year. With all the other
female skunks. Who have you seen
around that’s kind of giving her a run for
your money this year? -Nobody!
-Nobody? -She’s the one?
-She’s the one. All right, we’re going to let our
judges convene back to their tent, so they can compile numbers. To our judges, thank
you very much for judging, and we’ll see everybody back
here at 2:00 O’clock, when we start
with our costume contest. Please enjoy lunch
and we’ll talk to you soon. So Deb has me on one
of the judging panels for the more fun
skunk competitions, so I’m actually going to go
meet with one of the judges from the king and queen
competition, to get a few pointers. I’m judging the costume event
later, do you have any advice? What should I look for out there? I would say you want to
look for one that’s alert, you want them upright, you
want them walking around, yeah, you want their
tail flipping in the air, like, “Oh, hey, this is me,
I’m a peacock”. Or a devil, or whatever.
You know, their costume is, you want one that’s
not trying to get it off, I’ve definitely seen some
skunks that are like, “Get this off, I don’t
want it on.” So you want them to be okay with it. -Thank you so much!
-You’re welcome. Good luck! Thank you. All right, we got Ruben. Where is Ruben from? Florida! From Florida, I can tell. All right, I’ll pretend
I didn’t see that, I’ll pretend I didn’t
see that, no. Okay. We got Clarkson coming in hot! Steampunk skunk! Steam– that’s
like a tongue twister. Steampunk skunk. All right, who can top
the Steampunk skunk? He’s very docile, that’s
a good feature, I hear. Do we have any more
costume contestants? Hey, do we have any more
talented skunks in the park? Oh wait, we got one last. What was his name again? Mr. Stinky Noodle. -Mr. Stinky Noodle?
-Stinky Noodle, yeah. Stinky Noodle the skunk. He gets extra points
for being so cute! All right! Could we chat for a second? -Yeah.
-Perfect. He’s being a butt. He’s mad that I had that
stupid costume on him, so he’s going to crap in my
shoe when I go home, okay. -He’s going to remember that?
-Yes. -Is he that smart?
-They all are. -He can actually remember…
-He’s a seizure alert animal, so yeah, he’s super smart. So he’s actually, I think
you mentioned earlier– He’s actually an ABA
certified service animal. He’s the first ever,
and only service skunk. And what’s the, if you
don’t mind me asking, is it because you
need him for service? I’m autistic and I
have seizures at night, I have nocturnal seizures. So he can pull me out of a
nocturnal seizure in dead sleep. And he got him for me
two weeks before surgery, I had my, I’m transgender,
I had my top surgery. And he was to be my
recovery animal, I guess. And we bonded from the
first night that I had him. He was six weeks old the first
time he pulled me out of a seizure and he’s been doing it ever since.
I went from having seven to ten seizures in a night, to having maybe
between one and three a week. Since getting him? Since getting him,
he’s 22 weeks old. And is this your first time
at the actual Skunk Fest? Yes, yes it is. And this is
our second anniversary. Second year being
married anniversary, so… It’s super awesome, we’re
going to come back next year, I’m hoping to tattoo
everybody next year. I’m going to be
doing some $50, uh… -$50 skunk tats?
-$50 skunk tats! That’s a pretty good deal. Well
congratulations on your anniversary, and finding this… -Beautiful baby.
-Beautiful, incredible baby. As the day came to an end, I made
my way back to the judges tent for the royal award ceremony
and grand finale of Skunk Fest. Where dreams are made
and souls are shattered. I stood on the sidelines,
nervously waiting to see if Deb will take
the tiara once again. 2017 Skunk Fest princess
is going to be, say it! Juniper! Oh, we got to go around this way. The 2017 prince
of Skunk Fest is… Kuba! Yay! And we have to get pictures after. Are we ready for the king? Smudge! Your hat. – We need the pictures afterwards.
-Great. Okay! 2017 queen is going to be… Gidget, by Deb! Everybody, I hope you all enjoyed
it, thank you all for coming. Woo-hoo! So the 2017 Skunk Fest
has come to an end, I came in here not really
knowing a thing about skunks. Honestly, I didn’t even know
you could keep one as a pet. But… You can have a skunk as a pet. You can walk a skunk on a leash, you can bring a skunk
around in a stroller, you could even hold two skunks
at the same time in your arms. All in all, the people are definitely
a bit strange as expected, but, in the end, they’re
really just outsiders, kind of similar to
skunks, in a way.

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