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LIVING WITH WILDLIFE

Playful Baby Skunk May Yet Put Up a Stink

October 08, 2000

Question: A baby skunk has learned how to enter and exit through my cat door to get to the bowls of food in the kitchen. While this skunk has never sprayed inside my home, it does sometimes run around inside, seemingly very happy.

Are my cats at risk if they eat out of the bowls before I have a chance to wash them and replace the food? If it sprays, how fast can it regenerate?

D.K.

Los Feliz

Answer: That skunk isn't going to seem so harmless once it sprays you or your cats, and spray it will. Just give it time and a little fright.

The musky spray of a skunk is a sulfur-alcohol compound known chemically as butylmercaptan. Skunks are capable of spraying from 4 weeks of age, and they can do so repeatedly.

Skunks can be quite loving, even playful, which accounts for why some people try to make them pets. Skunks that are bred to be pets, however, are "deskunked" at a very young age and often come from a breeding facility. They're given shots and medical care the way a pet cat is. Some are even given behavior training.

Your visitor is wild and would make a lousy pet. My suggestion is to get it back outside and prevent it from coming in the pet door again by either eliminating the pet door or replacing it with a magnetically activated one.

As far as there being a need to wash the cats' bowls, I'd throw them away and start fresh as a safety precaution against parasites. Get your cats checked by a vet if you're concerned they may have spent much time with the skunk.

Keeping Raccoons From Ripping Up Sod

Q: I have raccoons eating and rolling up sod. I guess they are after grubs. I have caught four (and two skunks), but I can't keep this up. Any suggestions?

S.K.

Sherman Oaks

A: They are looking for grubs. This is the time of year you're most likely to see this behavior, as raccoon mothers teach their young foraging and surviving skills.

First, stop trapping them. Moving them beyond a quarter of a mile is illegal, certainly inhumane (most relocated animals don't survive the move) and, as you can see, ineffective.

A couple of ways to keep raccoons from rolling back sod include surrounding the yard with an electric fence, which is just a charged wire placed low to the ground, or staking down the sod to prevent them from rolling it up. They may still dig and pull around the edges but the damage will be minimized. You can make stakes or buy them at a lumberyard.

If this is happening every year, plan earlier next year and treat the lawn for grubs. There are both organic methods and insecticides labeled specifically for grubs. Check at your local nursery.

Last, since you know what's doing the damage and when, you can simply harass them when they show up. You may have to do this relentlessly for a week but in combination with the stakes, it'll probably work. Flick the porch lights on and off, bang trash can lids and pop some balloons. They'll get the hint.

Keeping Hungry Snakes Out of the Fish Pond

Q: When we built our koi and frog pond five years ago, we didn't realize how many other critters would be attracted. The birds, coyotes and raccoons have been kept at bay with chicken wire, but snakes continue to be our biggest problem. The gopher snakes can kill full-size bullfrogs and 6-inch koi. If the prey is too big to swallow, they just leave it on the side of the pond and go after something else. And once they become successful fishermen (not all do), they are relentless until I catch them and move them to a distant park.

Fortunately, they are easy to catch. When they come up for air, I just reach down and grab them. We have tried a variety of weird solutions, but nothing has worked. I'm sure this must be a common problem in hillside areas, although most people probably wouldn't think to look for snakes among the pots, rocks and lily pads.

B.C.

Encino

A: Though you may not hear about it much, pond-raiding snakes are a problem for fish hatcheries, commercial ponds and small backyard ponds.

I know of only one product designed specifically for this purpose. It was invented by a fish hatchery owner who was experiencing the same problem as you but on a much larger scale. This solution is not for the fainthearted, however, because it requires some hands-on work to release the snake once it's been trapped.

The product is an 18-inch-high plastic netting that creates a low fence or barrier around the pond. It works by trapping the snake as it moves through one of the net's small holes. As the snake's body passes through, the fit gets tighter and tighter. Eventually the snake becomes stuck, unable to move forward, due to its circumference, or backward, due to its scales.

But here's where the difficulty comes, since now you have a snake stuck in a net. Because you're already wrestling with gopher snakes, though, it won't be much trouble to simply cut the snake loose, release it away from the pond and repair the netting (be sure to buy a few extra feet for easy repair).

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