Aspen Skunk

Skunk Rabies Research

This was Erica's senior class picture. She had it taken with her beloved pet, Aspen. Aspen died in December of 1998 to prove that he did not have rabies. Had there been an approved rabies vaccine and quarantine period in this country for skunks, Aspen would still be alive and well and brightening the Mills home. You can read Aspen's story on our background page.

When you ask the average American what their thoughts are on skunks you get descriptions like: "Smelly, rabies carrying, pests."

This statement, with its misconceptions and misinformation, could not be further from the truth! In fact, wild skunks prefer to avoid contact with humans and other animals. They are very quiet, non-aggressive, solitary creatures, willing to live and let live. It is true that they can spray, if they feel that they are in danger. It is also true that if one gets sprayed by a skunk, they stay "fragrant" for quite some time. Skunks do not want to spray, however, and give plenty of warning before doing so. They only spray as a very last resort. Skunks can contract rabies, and so can any other unvaccinated mammal. They are no more prone to rabies than any other mammal.

Wild skunks are an important part of our ecosystem. They could be called "Nature's Sanitation Engineers". They rid the environment of rats, mice, cockroaches, harmful garden pests (snails, grubs, all insects, gophers, moles), even poisonous animals (rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, scorpions), and "road kill" (which can cause accidents and spread disease).

It may surprise you to know that skunks are kept as pets in literally thousands of homes across the United States, and that they have become so popular as pets that they are now being imported into other countries to be sold as pets.

While living with a skunk may seem strange to some, people who live with skunks are just as dedicated to their companions as any dog or cat enthusiast is to theirs. It may also surprise you to know that although these unique and beautiful creatures make loving pets, not all states allow them to be kept as pets. Skunks are allowed as pets in the US in less than half of the states, and there are usually special permits required and other regulations that must be followed.

Please do not misunderstand what we just said, however. Even in states where it is legal to keep skunks as pets, if there is ever a question of any kind about a skunk, that skunk will be killed and tested for rabies. This means that if a pet skunk, who has never had a chance to be exposed to rabies should accidentally bite a person while playing (as many pets will, even puppies and kitties), that skunk will be sentenced to death. Remember, Aspen was a domestic skunk who lived in a "legal" state.

The main reason for this is that there is no skunk rabies vaccine approved in the United States, and there is also no quarantine period set up for skunks. The vaccine does exist and it is in use in Canada in the wild population to try to control rabies in the wild. However, it is being used "off label" and is not approved in Canada either.



Background

Since people have lived in America, skunks have been kept in captivity, whether for utilitarian purposes, such as pest control, or for the sheer joy that they bring us as pets. With the upsurge in the fur industry during the 1800s and early 1900s, many breeders began raising them in captivity for their fur. In 1858, there were 18,255 skunk pelts shipped to London alone. This number gradually increased over the years to 1914 when 1,921,869 furs were shipped. In fact, in the early 1900s, skunk fur was the second most popular fur and exceeded the most popular fur-bearing animal (muskrat) in total value of fur produced.

With the decline in the fur industry in the latter part of the 20th century, breeders, who depended on skunks for their livelihood for decades, began looking for alternative ways to supplement their income. Thus began the trend toward selling skunks as pets.

Unfortunately, even though the breeding of skunks for the fur industry was sanctioned, and even encouraged by government agencies, keeping them as pets has not been received well by these same agencies. This is primarily because there is no approved rabies vaccine or quarantine period for skunks as there is for other, more popular pets. Consequently, even in states where they are legal as pets, skunks who have been raised in homes for their entire lives and never had the opportunity to contract the disease are still at risk of being euthanized and tested for rabies should a bite occur. Many domestic skunks have suffered this fate over the last decade.

In December of 1998, Aspen, a two year old domestic skunk of the Mills family and the 1998 Skunks as Pets Grand National Champion was euthanized because he bit someone while playing. You can read Aspen's story on this site. At this point, the skunk community became determined to prevent the loss of any more of our beloved pets to this fate. This led to the formation of Aspen Skunk Rabies Research, Inc. (ASRR).

Skunks are becoming more and more popular as pets, both in the US and overseas. However, the number of pet skunks is no match for the number of dogs and cats owned by the public. For this reason, it is not economically feasible for the vaccine companies or the government to fund the study for a skunk vaccine and quarantine period. It is therefore up to us to shoulder this burden if we want to protect our beloved pets. As our research has shown us, this is a lengthy and expensive process. We ask you to help us to help the skunks.

ASRR is dedicated to obtaining a government-approved rabies vaccine and quarantine period for skunks so that skunks, and the people who love them, can live in harmony without fear of another unnecessary death.