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Aggressive skunks invade town, spread stink, carry rabies

September 11, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • Animal control officers say that hot weather has forced many skunks into the city of Pierre, S.D., in search of food and water.
Animal control officers say that hot weather has forced many skunks into… (birdphotos.com / Wikimedia…)

Residents of South Dakota’s state capital are holding their noses this fall and it has nothing to do with politics.

The city of Pierre is being invaded by skunks.

Animal control officials say that 60 of the furry little stinkers have been caught since June and in a town of 15,000. That translates to one possible skunk encounter for every 250 residents.

But there’s an even worse danger: skunks are often rabid.

“Skunks are the reservoir of rabies out here on the Great Plains,” South Dakota state epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger told the Los Angeles Times. “Skunks actually present a two-fold menace. Rabies is the biggest danger. Then the spraying. Oh, and they bite, too.”

So far this year, 45 rabid animals have been caught in South Dakota, 25 of them skunks. Though the state has not had a case of rabies since 1970, officials remain vigilant.

“Pierre is a small town,” Kightlinger said. “People are concerned.”

In one recent case, a dog tussled with a skunk, got sprayed and ran back inside its home. The pet’s owners were not happy, he said.

Animal control officers say that hot weather has the animals coming from outside the city in search of food and water. The town sits on a bluff above the Missouri River. There are so many calls for skunk traps, there’s a waiting list for control officials to get to some areas.

The local newspaper, the Capital Journal, recently published some helpful tips about how to get out the smell of a skunk attack--a mix of peroxide, baking soda and Dawn dish soap. Readers were instructed to “put it on whatever was sprayed and let it set in for five minutes. Repeat as needed.”

Gross says than 60 skunks have been caught since June. He says he has all of his traps out and calls keep coming, leading to a waiting list.

Skunks not only have a foul odor but also a high likelihood of disease. Kightlinger says more than 60% of skunks that are tested in South Dakota are rabid.

“When people hear of a skunk, they all worry they’re going to get sprayed and it’s going to stink, but the stink is temporary, but exposure to rabies, that is much more serious. That is a fatal disease,” Kightlinger said.

He said most captured skunks are released in the woods, but others showing aggressive behavior are usually put down and tested for rabies.

“If a skunk is just going about its skunk business, we usually don’t test them. But if they bite or attack, it’s usually a sign of rabies,” Kightlinger told The Times. “They’re actually cute little things.”

So how miserable is Pierre these days?

“Well, it's actually a pretty happy town,” Kightlinger said. “But there’s are some pretty unhappy dogs out there who have had a skunk encounter. Not to mention their owners.”

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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