Skunk Haven

Renee Pearlstein of Skunk Haven, a domestic skunk rescue organization, shows off one of the skunks to the children at the Geauga Humane Society’s Rescue Village summer camp.  Along with meeting the skunks, the children in the weeklong camp learned about reptiles and visited with Geauga County Sheriff’s deputies canine officers.

From skunks to reptiles, young people taking part in a summer camp at Geauga Humane Society’s Rescue Village had an up-close look at animals not normally seen during daily activities.

The students ages 9 to 12 were participants in the week-long camps held over the summer at the Rescue Village animal shelter in Russell Township.

They take part in a number of activities, said Nicole Latosky, director of humane education programs for Rescue Village, including learning about reptile rescues. Geauga Sheriff’s deputies demonstrated activities with trained canine officers.

The campers worked in the Rescue Village barn, helping to socialize the turkeys currently living there, and they helped to make blankets for the animals. They also created treats for the dogs and barn animals, and participated in socializing puppies and kittens.

“Summer is about fun,” Hope Brustein, director of Rescue Village, said. “At Rescue Village, camps are fun, educational and they help the animals. What a combination. We have known some kids all the way until they became teens and a few even through college.

“The bonds made between young people and animals will make a difference far beyond summer,” Ms. Brustein said of the long-lasting impact on the campers.

As one of the special treats last week, students were introduced to skunks by Skunk Haven, a domestic skunk rescue organization for pet skunks based in North Ridgeville.

Renee Pearlstein showed off Tony, a chocolate brown skunk to campers. She fosters skunks and noted Skunk Haven is a no-kill shelter founded by Deb Cipriani.

Ms. Pearlstein told the campers about pet skunks, which are de-scented by the breeders when they are very young. The domestic skunks are a variety of colors. The organization started in 2001 when an owner got her first skunk and it got sick and the veterinarians did not know about skunks.

The skunk owners started researching and established Skunk Haven. And once a skunk is de-scented, it has no defense so they started the rescue work, Ms. Pearlstein said. It is the only such organization in the area and it also adopts out skunks.

Skunks eat healthy and need a lot of protein, she said. They live seven to 10 years but in the wild they live three to five years. Houses where skunks live have to be “child proofed,” she said because skunks can open drawers and doors and even refrigerators.

“They love to eat,” Ms. Pearlstein said. “They know when it is breakfast and supper time. Sometimes people come home to find their skunks eating out of the refrigerator.” The domesticated skunks are playful and cuddly although they can be aloof as well, she said. “A lot of my skunks run around my house and sleep in the bed.” The domesticated and de-scented skunks can’t defend themselves out in the wild, she noted.

In the wild they are up at dusk and dawn and eat mice, snakes and bugs, she noted. “They are an extremely strong animal as small as they are.”

Skunks are good for the environment, digging up bugs and killing pests and rodents. Their predators in the wild include owls and hawks, Ms. Pearlstein noted.

People are afraid of skunks in the wild but the animals would rather walk away than encounter a person, she said. A skunk that is about to spray stomps its front feet and puffs up its fur. They turn in a U-shape before spraying. “It’s like being hit by mace,” Ms. Pearlstein said of being sprayed. “But they only spray if they are scared.”

Leah Backo, spokeswoman for Rescue Village, said, “It’s so incredible for these kids to learn about these animals and that they understand that they should be cared for properly and go to good homes. We don’t want homeless animals,” she added.

“I think it’s important to have these experiences at a young age and to understand about the humane world. These kids are the future protectors of animals.” About 150 children attended the weekly camps over the summer, Ms. Backo said. Some come back to volunteer at the shelter, she noted.

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