Ralph, the Skunk

Ralph the skunk was an orphan whose mother had been hit by a car. We had him for several weeks before a doctor I knew agreed to de-skunk him for us. The Dr. had actually gone to college to become a vet, but you had to know someone to get into graduate school, and since neither his dad, uncle, or grandpa was a vet that could recommend him, he couldn't get in, so he became a people doctor instead! Anyway, we put Ralph in the garage on a clean table and very bright lights, and I helped de-skunk him! There are two glands right near the anus that we removed.

A few weeks later he developed a spinal virus that he had inherited from his mother. He seemed to have been paralyzed and had lost control of his hind legs. He was crawling in circles. I called the local vet and described his condition and he knew exactly what it was. He prescribed an anti-viral that I picked up immediately that Friday, and he said Ralph would either be better by Monday or would be dead by then. He got better - although he was never 100%.

Ralph had free run of the house since he was completely litter-trained, and was also allowed outside. We had a step only about 4" from the entrance into the kitchen, and he could not get up that step without crawling onto a shoe (or something) first. Steps on the porch he needed to be carried up and down.

The vet had told us that skunks do not make good pets because during mating season (early spring) they get very mean and will even attack their owners. But Ralph was very loving, and would sit in your lap like a cat - he loved to be petted and scratched and FED.

He would follow us anywhere, and would come when called when we were outside with him. As long as you kept talking he would stay within 10 feet of you no matter where you went outside.

We had a kitten at the same time that would stalk Ralph from across the yard, and finally run full-tilt at him, bowling him over upon contact, and then keep running. Ralph never knew what hit him! One second he would be minding his own business sniffing around in the grass and the next he would be flat on his back! Ralph would get up and look around with his tail in the air (an empty threat by now), and not seeing anything, would quickly go back to sniffing in the grass. The cat would be laughing 20 feet away.

Skunks have very poor vision, but very good hearing - that's why so many of them are found dead on the roads. They don't know what it is but they can hear it coming - they just can't see it and they don't know which way to run.

Over the summer Ralph grew quite big. Bigger than any of us knew skunks could get! Of course he was beefing up for winter, but still!! People who knew about skunks told us the best thing we could do over winter was to keep him in a rabbit cage out in the barn. He would hibernate, and it would not interfere with his natural instincts. So we did. But we found out that skunks do not hibernate completely like bears - but more like squirrels. Any nice day they wake up and move around a bit. Ralph would like a bit of pizza or other leftovers on these days. He was still friendly, and liked to get cuddled and petted for a while. He was still crippled from the virus he had when he was little, so locking the top of his cage down seemed unnecessary.

One day in late February he was missing. He was not in his cage. We were convinced someone had come and either let him out or stole him since there was no possible way he could get out on his own. But mating season does amazing things to men! I searched for days in the woods around our house, and even went out on horseback looking for him calling his name and making a lot of noise in the woods so he could hear me and come out from wherever he was (IF he had been turned loose or gotten out on his own). About 2 weeks later, on my birthday, I found him dead on the road. I have never cried over losing a pet like I did for Ralph. He will always be remembered.

Later that same spring, someone else had found an orphaned baby skunk and asked us if we wanted him. Of course we did! We named him Ralph II. This one we did not have de-skunked, and he did not have a spinal virus. He was as active and as fast as a cat! He would race up and down the stairs and would pounce on you when you least expected it. You had to be quick if you opened the refrigerator door, or he would sail into the kitchen and try to climb in! Ralph II was much more lively, and more aggressive. He was just fine with our family, but as he grew older, he became a little more instinctive. I still carry scars on my right hand where he bit me one time, and a couple of the girl’s friends also got bit because he got scared.

By that fall Ralph II had gotten pretty self-reliant, and after the last bite-victim reported us to the DNR, we had to turn him loose (after we kept him caged for 10 days to prove that he was not rabid). Ralph II stayed nearby for the whole winter, and we fed him regularly, but by mating season, he had decided to go his own way.