When Betty Adams noticed about three weeks ago that some sort of critter was causing problems at her residence in northwest Texas County, she decided to do something about it.
A number of baby chickens and turkeys had been slaughtered on the property, so like a lot of local residents would, Adams set up a live trap in hopes of catching the culprit. Using cat food as bait on the first night, she subsequently caught a cat. But on the second night, sardines were the attraction in the trap and the following morning, Adams had her suspect: An adult skunk.
“We had seen it, so we knew it was around,” she said. “We had watched it go from a culvert to its hiding place.”
Once more, Adams and her husband, Gus, did the same thing a lot of locals would and put the unwelcome guest down. But then something happened that was an unforeseen consequence of their actions.
About four days after the skunk’s demise, six baby skunks came parading out from under a small shed on the property.
“They just started exploring the world,” Adams said. “The wouldn’t go very far from the shed, but they were doing it during the daytime. They were adorable.”
It didn’t take long for Adams to put two-and-two together and realize that the chick-killing skunk had been the mother of the half-dozen “kits.” But it also didn’t take long for her to realize she had a problem.
“It was like, ‘I can’t let six cute little skunks live here,’” she said.
Over a period of three days, Adams caught all six of the little tykes with a butterfly net.
“Once I would catch a couple, the others would head for the hole,” she said. “People kept checking with me to find out if I had gotten all of them, but it wasn’t like they would sit outside that hole and wait for you.”
The group of kits included some with standard coloring and some with the mostly white, or “hooded” look. All of the tiny animals enjoyed being held and touched.
“They were extremely friendly,” Adams said. “They were such a joy to be around.”
The furry toddlers were kept in a dog crate and enjoyed a diet consisting primarily of sardines and tuna. But the fun was marred by a trait that simply comes naturally to skunks and most other wild animals.
“The smell was atrocious,” Adams said. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this; what am I going to do when they grow up?’”
Adams called a couple veterinarians for advice.
“They said having a skunk as a pet and ‘de-skunking’ them were both illegal,” she said.
Adams reached out to a Missouri Department of Conservation representative.
“He said to kill them,” she said, “because owning them was illegal and they were a nuisance.”
But Adams was determined to find the cute little creatures a way out of their predicament. She contacted two animal-related locations in Springfield: Dickerson Park Zoo and Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium.
“They said in order to take the babies from me, I had to be a licensed wildlife rehab specialist,” Adams said. “I said, ‘I don’t have a license, I’m just a mom killer.’
“I didn’t know she was a mom.”
A friend did an online search for wildlife rehab specialists and found a listing for an organization in St. Louis. Adams contacted a woman there and by an incredible coincidence found out she owned property in Texas County only two miles away.
“That was so weird,” Adams said. “But she gave me two more phone numbers for people in Marshfield and Hartville and said if they couldn’t help me that she definitely would. That felt good because then I knew someone was going to help.”
Adams called the Hartville number and spoke with licensed wildlife rehab specialist Cathy Harrison, who was obviously delighted and said “I’ll be there in an hour!”
“She didn’t ask me why I had baby skunks, how I got them or anything about what happened,” Adams said. “She was just so excited.”
THE KITS FIND A REFUGE
Harrison has been a licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist for about two years and volunteered for multiple wildlife rehab operations before that. She now runs her own rescue business and takes in almost any form of native Missouri wildlife.
Harrison said the most common species she deals with are possums, squirrels and raccoons.
“The only thing I don’t do is snakes and armadillos,” she said.
When Harrison took in the Adams litter of kits, they were placed with another litter of six about the same age.
“I have skunks every year,” Harrison said.
The mixed dozen did fine together from the outset.
“They doing great,” Harrison said. “They stick together now and play together, and it’s just a big family of 12.”
As an animal lover, Harrison finds her work rewarding.
“I love helping them,” she said. “There are times when everything needs help. Too often, people will just abandon or dump wildlife. But not me; when I find it, I rehab it and get it up to where it needs to be and then release it back into the wild.”
Harrison took in the Adams skunks about a week after their saga began.
“It was such a relief,” Adams said. “I just could not have killed them; they were cuter than a cat. It was so nice to know they had gone to a place where they were in good hands and welcome.”
The whole time they were in Adams’ care, the kits never sprayed any stink juice.
“They just wanted someone to hold them and love them,” she said. “They had no fear at all.”
To contact licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist Cathy Harrison, call 417-259-7176. She is always willing to consider taking in a wild animal in need of care.