Malodorous mammals making way through Moffat County

Officials say little stinkers are just looking for food


"They're everywhere!"

On Tuesday night, Mary Funkhouser, Craig resident and local business owner, was lounging in her hot tub at home when she heard a disturbing sound. "I sat up and looked over the edge of the tub and there he was on the porch," Funkhouser said.

Last week at a different Craig residence, Jim Ricker's big black dog chased one out of the back yard and got shot in return.

"I think maybe they drink beer," Carrie Smith said. Her brows knit in consternation as she told how her neighbor poured beer into pie tins and set them out in his garden to drown slugs. Later that night when he checked the tins, he found three critters staggering around the garden. Not slugs, but skunks.

Skunks have never been a simple black and white matter in Craig. You either love them or you hate them.

"I can remember, back in the '60s we had so many skunks in town the Sheriff's Posse shot them with .22 rifles," George Lewis, retired business owner, said.

Another long-time resident recalled the great Skunk Hunt here about 30 years ago, "The Jaycees walked down Yampa Avenue and all over town, scaring out skunks and killing them. They did it for the good of the community because the skunks were just all over town, and smelled something awful," she said.

And they just keep on coming. There have been so many skunk complaints this year, the small staff in Craig's Animal Control Office can only deal with the ones inside city limits.

"We have had to euthanize 103 skunks this year, most of them in August and September," Animal Control Officer Amy Andrews said. "We don't shoot them, but use an injection the same type of solution veterinarians use to put domestic animals down."

According to Andrews, many people oppose killing skunks because the critters are wildlife. "I don't enjoy euthanizing them," she said. "That's the worst part of my job. Most all of the other animals we relocate, usually to the wildlife area between Craig and Hayden. But not the skunks."

Libby Miller, District Wildlife Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), said skunks are on DOW's Prohibitive Species list. "That means they can't be relocated," she said.

Skunks made the list because they are considered a nuisance. "They are a species people tend to not want to have in the area," Miller said. "For the most part, skunks are harmless, but the main reason they're on the list is because they are highly susceptible to rabies and tend to carry other diseases, like distemper."

Miller advises if a skunk is acting strange salivating, staggering, or trying to bite it is probably rabid or sick. Do not approach it, but call animal control at 824-8111 or the Moffat County Sheriff's office at 824-4495.

When skunks waddle out of Sherwood Forest and across green lawns, most people in Craig feel compelled to do something about it. Generally, they set out live animal traps baited with a skunk delicacy cat food. Leghold traps are illegal in Colorado. And since a live animal cannot be moved once it's been trapped, the only option is to call animal control.

But some people believe in living harmoniously with skunks. "They're pretty timid creatures," Dr. Lane Kihlstrom, owner of Northwest Veterinary in Craig, said. "I've got a skunk living on my property and I just walk quietly behind him, herding him away from the house. Most people get sprayed because they startle a skunk."

Andrews said she always walks up to the traps slowly. "Knock on wood, I've been on my job 10 years and I've never been sprayed," she said. "Dogs scare skunks a lot. Cats and skunks, that's a little different skunks and cats seem to have a mutual respect for each other."

The spray is the skunk's tool to gain respect. Native Americans tell us: Skunk doesn't threaten your life, but threatens your senses.

According to Kihlstrom, skunks use their spray for defense, not for attacking. Their spray, a very oily musk, can hit a target 10 to 15 feet away and has an odor so obnoxious it makes some people nauseous. "Their spray is an irritant to the eyes. In a full frontal spray, the oils can damage the cornea," Kihlstrom said.

According to Kihlstrom, there are as many skunk odor remedies as there are skunks. A tomato juice rinse is top of mind for most people. Although, Deana Case, clerk at Country General, doesn't recommend it for white dogs. "We used it on our white samoid and he turned pink," she said.

Commercial deodorizers work for mild spraying, but Kihlstrom's favorite is a recipe developed by chemist Paul Krebaum of Lisle, Ill. and found in an old Wildlife Control Technology magazine by DOW researcher Tom Beck: mix together one quart of three percent hydrogen peroxide, one-fourth cup baking soda, and one teaspoon liquid soap. Wash while the mixture is bubbling, then rinse with water.

The best remedy is to avoid getting sprayed in the first place. That's not easy with so many skunks around. So why do skunks love Craig so much?

"We live in a community where wildlife is abundant - wild animals naturally feel at home here," Andrews said. "Skunks are nocturnal. They just wander through your yard at night and, if there's nothing to attract them back, then they probably won't come back to your yard again."

According to Miller, skunks are attracted by cat food and dog food. Compost piles with rotting vegetables, bird feeders with seeds, garbage, chicken houses and bee hives are also skunk magnets. Skunks go after mice living in barns, sheds and garages. Stacks of lumber, piles of wood and branches, and junk cars provide shelter for them. They love to get into window wells and dark, damp locations underneath a covering. "Look around at what you have that might be attracting skunks," Miller said.

Andrews recommends a general yard clean-up. "Put your trash in a dumpster. Clean up your wood pile. Patch up all holes around foundations and basements. Pick up your pet food - don't leave it sitting outside or on porches," she said.

Other ways to discourage skunks cited by the DOW include: Bury wire mesh under fences where they dig. Cover window wells. Screen all fireplace dampers, chimney tops and clothes dryer vents. Install wire mesh fences around poultry yards. Elevate and install aluminum guards around bee hives.

"As citizens of Craig, we need to take care of our property," Andrews said. "Personally, I don't think it's fair that I have to go kill a skunk just because somebody didn't clean up the pet food in their yard."

Miller said, "Sometimes skunks just get themselves stuck in a place and they can't get out. If you find one in a window well, prop a log or a board in the hole and give them an option of climbing out."

James Knight, extension wildlife specialist from Montana State University, writes in a wildlife management guidebook used by the DOW: "Skunks should not be needlessly destroyed. They are highly beneficial to farmers, gardeners, and landowners. Unless skunks become really bothersome, they should be left alone."

With a little tolerance, there are ways to cope with an occasional skunk in the yard or under the house. DOW suggests, if you think a skunk is living under your porch or house, put flour near the suspected entrance and check for footprints after 10 p.m. If footprints confirm the presence of a skunk, try one or all of these at the entrance:

Soak a rag with household ammonia and hang it with a string.

Scatter moth balls or flakes.

Turn on a portable radio, preferably to a talk station or rap music.

Burn an outside light.

Skunks are born wanderers. There's a good chance Pepe le Pew will be gone from your yard in a short time if he's left alone - and providing there's no gorgeous cat inviting him over for a late dinner or to sample a leftover cup of sour cream.

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