Skunks: The new house pet

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DELAWARE, Mich. (AP) - After a long day at work owning and operating the Delaware Copper Mine in the Upper Peninsula, Tom and Lani Poynter curl up in bed with their beloved pets - their skunks.

In fact, the Poynters own two skunks, a male and a female, and love being parents to domestic skunks.

"Years ago, I saw a mother and four babies walking across (U.S.) 41 single file in Calumet," Lani Poynter said. "And they were so cute the way they walked and I thought it would be so neat to have one."

Over the years, the couple would see skunks in pet stores but they were always already spoken for. They acquired their first skunk after it was given to them by someone who couldn't care for him because of constantly being away from the home.

"We had him for two years and he developed some health problems, so we had to put him to sleep," Poynter said. "We felt so bad, we decided we'd get a baby and raise it. Then we'd know its medical history."

The male, a 4-year-old named Oreo, was only six weeks old when they got him from a skunk breeder. Skunks are weaned and ready to find a loving home at six weeks old.

"Babies are so cute because they run all over the house with their tail up like they're ready" to spray, Poynter said.

Unbeknownst to the skunk, they can't spray because that gland has been removed - as is the scent gland in all domestic skunks.

"The breeder removes it when they are two or three weeks old," she said.

Skunks make good pets because they are catlike, she said, but they can't climb and jump onto things.

"They're very nonaggressive animals," Poynter said. "You won't come home and find them on the kitchen counter."

They are also affectionate and playful, she said.

All the skunks are also trained to defecate on newspapers, which was not difficult to train them to do, she said.

"They're like rabbits - they always go to a corner," she said. "You just watch them and when they back into a corner with their tail up, you know what they're going to do."

The skunks return to the paper every time. Experts say if the skunk is defecating where the owner doesn't want them to go, Poynter said, the owner should move the paper a little bit every day to a preferred area and the skunk will follow.

Poynter said her skunks are loving, gentle pets. Snickers, the 2-year-old female, and Oreo mainly sleep in a corner or in the hallway. During the day, they sleep in a cat house in the mine office.

"When it's cool out, they sleep in bed with us under the covers because they don't like to be cold," she said. "They come over and paw on the edge of the bed to get our attention and we pick them up and put them under the covers."

Just like any other house pet, they are taken to the veterinarian to get the same shots dogs and cats get, except for a rabies shot, which has yet to be developed for skunks.

"When they're strictly house pets, there isn't a chance of them getting rabies," Poynter said.

When they are out in the office, they use the paper, play with each other or just sleep in the sun's rays being cast through the windows.

Poynter said they get mixed reactions from tour patrons who pass through the doors.

"Some people take a step back and they don't want to get anywhere near them," she said. "But once they start interacting with Oreo, they want to get one."

It takes a special owner to love and care for skunks as pets, Poynter said.

"They require a lot of attention," she said. "If you're not there to give them that, they will hide and only come out to eat. It's not something you can just have like a cat, where you can leave it. You have to interact with it."

That means cooking food for it. The Poynters' skunks eat a healthy human diet primarily made up of vegetables, cottage cheese, yogurt, fruits and nuts.








Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.





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