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Although capable of living indoors with humans similarly to cats or dogs, pet skunks are relatively rare, partly due to restrictive laws and the complexity of their care. Pet skunks are mainly kept in the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Italy.
In the United States, pet skunks can be purchased from licensed animal shelters, non-profit skunk educational organizations such as the American Domestic Skunk Association, or breeders with a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Baby skunk availability peaks during springtime, immediately following the skunk mating season. Some large fur farms sell surplus skunks to pet stores.
Skunks are probably best known for their ability to spray foul-smelling fluid as a defense against predators. Most wild skunks spray only when injured or attacked, as a defense mechanism. The mercaptan-emitting scent glands are usually removed in pet skunks at about four weeks of age. Since 2006, this removal practice has been illegal in the UK.
Skunks are native to the Americas and are first noted in historical accounts of Christopher Columbus. Skunks were reportedly kept as pets by some Native American nations. Farmers valued domesticated skunks for their ability to kill rodents and other pests. Skunk pelts were also used for coats and frequently passed off as marten fur. Before the 1950s, they were sold under ambiguous names such as "American sable" and "Alaskan sable". The courts finally ruled that the customer must be informed of any purchase that contained skunk parts. The skunk fur market subsequently collapsed. Since then, skunks have been mainly bred as pets, or as animals in show.
In the 20th century, most U.S. states outlawed the keeping of wild animals as part of their efforts to stem the spread of rabies. Only about one-third of states continued to allow domestic skunks. In the 1990s, skunk enthusiasts began establishing mailing lists and organized for skunk law reform. In the 2000s, similar initiatives took place in Canada.
Skunks are sensitive, intelligent animals, and like all intelligent animals, temperament varies with each individual. In general, though, skunks have playful temperaments. Skunks tend to be highly curious and will open cupboards that are left unlocked. Some owners have noticed skunks smelling something that was spilled on the carpet long ago, and attempting to dig to find out what is buried there. Like ferrets, their curiosity can lead them into danger, especially if they crawl inside reclining chairs or other machinery.
Skunks and other mammals can contract rabies by being bitten by an infected animal or eating the carcass of an infected animal. Although it is quite rare for domesticated skunks to get rabies, there have been cases in which an uninfected pet skunk bit a person and was euthanized by animal control personnel so its brain cells could be tested for rabies.
In the United States, there is no government-approved rabies vaccine or quarantine period for skunks. In Canada, Imrab 3 was used in a study for off-label use as a skunk rabies vaccine and to date it is not approved for skunk use. If a skunk nips or bites, and the owner can produce proof of vaccination, a 2-week quarantine is required, according to Vivianne Chernoff of Skunks as Pets Canada.
Import permits will not be issued for foxes, raccoons and skunks purchased for import to Canada as a personal pet.
American laws on skunk ownership vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most states prohibit keeping skunks as pets.
American skunk dealers earning more than $500 a year on the skunk trade are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS), which has established three classes of licensed skunk dealers. A class A license allows one to breed skunks; a class B license allows one to sell skunks; and a class C license allows one to display them to the public.
Legality of skunk ownership in the United States State Legality Statute Alabama Illegal  Alaska Illegal Arkansas Illegal  Arizona Illegal  California Illegal Colorado Illegal Connecticut Illegal Delaware Illegal Florida Legal, with permit  Georgia Illegal  Hawaii Illegal Idaho Illegal  Illinois Illegal Indiana Legal, with permit  Iowa Legal  Kansas Illegal Kentucky Legal in some counties  Louisiana Illegal Maine Illegal Maryland Illegal  §10-621(b)(1) Massachusetts Illegal (since September 2006) Michigan Legal with permit; outside
cage must be built;
must be bred in Michigan
 Minnesota Illegal  Mississippi Illegal Missouri Illegal  Montana Illegal  Nebraska Illegal  Nevada Illegal  New Hampshire Legal, with permit  New Jersey Legal, with permit.  New Mexico Legal, with permit  New York Legal with permit, but
only in limited areas.
 North Carolina Illegal  North Dakota Illegal  Ohio Legal, with permit  Oklahoma Legal, but must have import
permit and health certificate.
 Oregon Legal, if bought outside of
Oregon, with import permit
and health certificates.
Illegal to sell or trade skunks.
 Pennsylvania Legal, with permit  Rhode Island Illegal South Carolina Permit required since 2004;
previously owned remain legal,
but no more will be permitted.
Illegal to buy or sell skunks.
 South Dakota Legal without permit;
only one skunk per person.
 Tennessee Illegal  TC 70-4-208 Texas Illegal Utah Illegal  R657-3 Vermont Illegal  Virginia Illegal  Washington
Illegal  West Virginia Legal, with permit  Wisconsin Legal, with permit  Wyoming Legal (classified as predatory
animals; as such may be kept as
pets, with no license required)
 Washington, DC Illegal
Several activists[who?] are seeking legalization of pet skunks in the jurisdictions where they are currently banned. Their activities have included supporting bills and testifying before legislative panels.
In 2001, Del. George W. Owings III introduced a bill in the Maryland legislature to legalize pet skunks in that state. Several officials spoke in opposition to the measure before the Environmental Matters committee. Mike Slattery, testifying on behalf of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, criticized the idea, saying it would encourage "Bambi syndrome", the tendency to domesticate wild animals. State health officials pointed out that the bill, HB 91, required rabies vaccinations when there is no federally approved rabies vaccine for skunks.
Rabies has, in fact, been a key issue in skunk-related legislative debates. Since wild skunks account for the second-largest number of rabies cases in wildlife in the US, many legislators have been reluctant to allow domestic skunks without an appropriate vaccine on the market. In addition to the problems at the state level, federal organizations set the policy for dealing with accidental skunk bites, which currently requires euthanizing the animal so rabies tests can be performed.
In February 1990, a rabies vaccine called Imrab 3 was approved for ferrets. Many skunk advocates believe the vaccine would also be effective for skunks, and are pushing to have it tested for this use. They also favor clinical tests to determine the appropriate quarantine/observation period in case of a skunk bite. This would provide a way to test skunks without the need for euthanasia. According to Aspen Skunk Rabies Research, part of the reason that this research has not been done yet is the high cost of these clinical trials, which would be difficult for drug companies to recoup.
In the early 2000s, People for Domestic Skunks gathered more than 4,000 signatures for its Nationwide Domestic Skunk Petition. According to Aspen Skunk Rabies Research, Inc., the effectiveness of petitions is limited by the fact that many important decisions are made by national organizations. The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians' annual Rabies Compendium sets the procedures for what to do if a skunk bites someone.
In Canada, Mike Freeman of Freeman's Exotic Skunks was ordered in 1999 by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to destroy his entire stock of 100 adult and 700 baby skunks. Although the agency had approved his farm in 1997, the 1998 Fish and Wildlife Act outlawed breeding. Natural Resources Minister John Snobelen ultimately gave him six months to sell or give away the animals in the U.S., saying, "No one wants to see these animals euthanized and that won't have to happen".
Pet skunk organizations can be a source of useful advice for skunk owners. Some organizations also hold annual skunk shows. Prizes are awarded in categories such as Prettiest Tail, Friendliest, Most Talented, etc.
The American Domestic Skunk Association provides education for skunk owners and the public, 24-hour phone and web support, adoptions, rescue, rehabilitation, shows and events, as well as newsletters, a skunk care guide and a research program.
Owners of Pet Skunks is a non-profit organization whose mission is to better the lives of captive-bred skunks. OOPS has an annual picnic and publishes a quarterly newsletter containing informative articles about skunks, human interest stories, puzzles, information on skunk related laws, and regional and national events.
Skunk Haven Skunk Rescue, Shelter, and Education, Inc. is based in Ohio and provides 24/7 phone and web support, an international network of rescues and rescue supporters, education for new owners, and exhibitions and education programs. The shelter has Federal USDA/APHIS and State permits to accept surrendered pet skunks into the shelter and to perform adoptions nationally; Skunk Haven also maintains a regularly updated list of legal states.
Skunks as Pets has chapters in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Dakota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Canada, and Germany.
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