Secrets of a Skunk Whisperer
Think your job is difficult, unpredictable, dangerous ... maybe even smelly? Just imagine if there was an angry skunk involved!
We had a chat with Ned Bruha, vice president of The Skunk Whisperer, an Oklahoma-based company specializing in humane wildlife control methods, to get the secrets of his trade.
Hi Ned. Tell us about what you do.
We offer wildlife control solutions ranging from nuisance critter removal, eviction, exclusion, wild animal problem prevention, structural damage and and attic repair-all without needlessly killing wildlife.
There is no such thing as a typical day. When we wake up in the morning, we do have our scheduled wildlife control missions-but Mother Nature frequently has plans for us, too. Squirrels under baby cribs, raccoons under couches, bats in the draperies... our career never allows for the same ol' thing day after day. We enjoy "atypical."
How did you get started?
My parents purchased an old yellow brick schoolhouse in Wisconsin that had doubled as the town hall and remodeled it to be my childhood home. The backyard had an old graveyard, which led to one of my first jobs-stopping chipmunks from burrowing into grave sites.
In order to get a closer look at a chipmunk den and tunnel system, I blocked exits with garden spades and trowels. One chipmunk popped out of the hole left open and placed his mark on the left corner of my forehead. You can still see the mark caused by the chipmunk bite. I have been chasing wild animal critters ever since!
When my hobby of taking care of wildlife problems started keeping me busy over 40 hours a week, we decided that it might no longer be a hobby. When you love what you do for a living it's difficult to place a date on when you first started the business.
What is the best thing about your career? The worst?
The most rewarding thing is being able to tell the homeowner that their uninvited guests were evicted and will never be able to get back in again-and telling their child there are no more monsters in the attic. Second best is training individuals in our methods so they can open their own Skunk Whisperer office location. Charging for services is the difficult part-it often feels like we are getting paid for having fun.
What do you wear while working?
The front of our shirts have raccoon footprints on them and the back says, "I handle wild animals for a living. If I am running, keep up!" People encouraged us to start a clothing line, and now our shirts have been shipped all over the world. All of The Skunk Whisperer's 2009-2010 clothing line profits will benefit wildlife rehabilitators.
If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
If there was one thing we could change, it would be waving a magic wand that would instantly have everybody in our industry mimicking our management methods vs. just trapping, relocating, and killing everything that moves. By itself, trapping is a short term remedy for wildlife problems. More animals soon fill the void in the territory and move back in.
Do you get paid: a) Enough? b) Too much? c) Too little?
Over the years we have found that when you worry less about money and more about taking care of the client, your good reputation will pay you back tenfold.
On days when we are able to rescue an animal in need of help, we are paid nothing at all, because nobody pays people in this day and age to do the right thing. On days when we get to watch a mother squirrel carry her babies off to a new location because we have coerced her not to live in our client's home, we are paid way too much to watch the incredible "show" that we produced. On days when we have to remove dead bodies from under homes or foot-tall piles of raccoon feces from attics, we are paid way, way too little.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? What's your dream job now?
As a child, I wanted to watch the birds and bees and play with animals for a living-the childhood dream of so many adults. I never grew up, I guess. We are doing exactly what we wanted to do for a living but did not realize we could. We cannot comprehend working in offices all day long, and few children ever dream about working in an office their entire life.
Have you noticed changes in your business related to the recession?
Recession? Squirrels, bats, raccoons, snakes... "recession" is not in their vocabulary. We live in a jungle-their jungle. As long as people live in houses, squirrels and other animals will find a way to move into attics and make beds in the fuzzy insulation.
What's your most unusual on-the-job experience?
A local feed store sold a family strychnine poison to kill the animals living under their house. Many animals died under their house and the family could barely stand to live in their home because of the smell. We were forced to remove all the carpeting and flooring to access the dead animals. Two opossums and a raccoon were decaying because of the poison. Folks want a "quick fix," but the quick fixes can turn into nightmares.
How long until you retire? What will you do then?
Retirement is not in my vocabulary. If you do what you love for a living, you will never work a day in your life. If a career has the "ho-hum" excitement of a fish bowl, perhaps retirement would be attractive.
What would you say to those who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
This career is not for everybody, but it makes us proud and happy. Problem-solving in order to create new ways for wildlife and humans to coexist and taking care of our clients' wildlife problems with long-term solutions means you wear many hats ... customer service, basic carpentry, bookkeeping, sales, accounting-and then being a wildlife hero and dropping everything to remove a snake from a bathtub.
If you are a sportsman, hunter, fisherman, friend, mother, father, brother, or sister, and you have the chance to take somebody younger out to the woods to observe the wildlife this week, do so. You will both be wealthier and healthier from the experience, and who knows, maybe they will take a similar path someday.