The e-mail was titled, "When Wildlife Comes Visiting the Garage." My curiosity was piqued. My friend Austin lives in an exciting world. Her nickname is Lucy — think Lucille Ball — because her calamities are many. This week's dilemma: a mom and three baby skunks nesting in her garage. "Okay, mice I can handle," she said, "but a mother skunk and her three adorable-but-keep-far-away babies are now nesting in our garage. We managed to catch the mother in a Havahart cage. Apparently skunks will not spray if they cannot see you, so the key thing is to keep the cage covered. But her little babies whose tails are full adult size and twice as big as their bodies are crawling all over the cage wondering what happened to mom. They can 'speak' to each other through the wire door. I feel heartless, and I am not sure how we are going to get the babies. Every time they see or hear me they run back into the garage."I couldn't help but laugh, but also vowed to find some help immediately. Austin sounded desperate.
The next day, I spoke with Frank from Critter Control (800-274-8837). "The type of skunk we have here is the striped skunk," he said. "We're just on the tail end of baby season right now. Skunks will have anywhere from four to six babies, and right now, unless you find a first-time mom, they are mainly juveniles and they stay with mom until about fall.
"If we can physically remove the skunk, then we will. Most of the time, we end up having to trap the skunk in a live trap. We use a trap called Safeguard. You can't find it over the counter, so a homeowner wanting to trap the skunk themselves would want to buy a Havahart cage."
What food works for bait?
"We bait them with seafood, but for a homeowner, cat food works just fine. We moved away from cat food because of the ants and also it attracts animals that you are not going after, like cats."
What about a covered trap, as Austin had used?
"You definitely want the trap covered; we use tarps. And the cover needs to move with the trap. We get a lot of customers who trap the skunk themselves and then they call us because they moved the trap and left the covering behind, forgetting it was covering the spray and they are then exposed to it. So with the cover, you are protected even if the skunk does spray."
The covered trap helps in another way as well. "Not only does it prevent the skunk from directly getting you with the spray, but it also makes the cage more like a den or a burrow for them. They feel more secure inside the trap. And 99 percent of the time, they won't spray. Most of the time, if you leave the trap alone, they are fine."
However, Frank says, some skunks have jumpier temperaments than others. "We get some that we pick up and have no problem whatsoever, and then you get some skunks that you pick up and down the road when you hit a speed bump they spray. So it really depends on the skunk."
How far can a skunk spray?
"They can spray anywhere from 12 to 15 feet accurately, so they can hit you right in the face. They spray an oily based secretion."
Any warning signs?
"The skunk will usually stomp his feet on the ground, which is a warning to you that he is threatened and is about to spray. Then, if the skunk is facing you, they have to turn around and raise the tail to spray. So they give you ample time; they really want nothing to do with you. They only spray out of defense."
Once you catch the skunk, what do you do with it?
"We have a couple of rehabs that we take the skunks to, and they check and see if they are healthy enough and then they do the releasing. If not, there are times when we do have to euthanize them. Skunks and raccoons are the big ones in California that carry rabies."
If a homeowner catches the skunk, "they can take and release the animal within three miles of their home. But if you go outside three miles, you are outside the law. The problem is if you release it three miles away, the animal is just going to come back because most of the animals that we deal with have a ten-mile radius.
"Fish and Game did a report," continued Frank, "and they found out that if you release the animal outside of its ten-mile radius, it doesn't know where to find food and water. So unless you put it right by a pretty little lake where there is food, you're actually doing the animal more harm because it just doesn't know the environment."
So Frank recommends calling a professional to remove the animal. Critter Control charges $329 , which covers a month worth of trapping or up to five animals. It also includes an inspection. "We are going to let you know how the animal got in the house or under the house or under the foundation, and then we also do the seal-up work."