Allowing Skunks as Pets Stinks, Some Lawmakers Say

Capital News Service
Tuesday, January 23, 2001

ANNAPOLIS- A huge stink has been raised in the General Assembly, and it's not over politics or the budget. Lawmakers are debating whether Marylanders should be able to keep skunks as pets.

Delegate George Owings, D-Calvert, sponsor of House Bill 91, proposed legalizing ownership of domesticated skunks, as in 23 other states.

"It's the right thing to do," he said.

House Environmental Matters Committee members chuckled at testimony from Vicki Turner, an aspiring skunk owner from Tracys Landing who urged Owings for more than three years to file the bill.

"I have two dogs, two cats, a bird, three turtles, two sons and my better half," Turner said. Still, she said, she wants a pet skunk.

While Owings described skunks as loving and potty-trainable, state health officials opposed the bill.

Clifford I. Johnson, Maryland State Public Health Veterinarian, said skunks cannot be domesticated.

"You can keep a snake around, but is it really domesticated? I don't think so," he said.

He also said that there are no vaccines to protect skunks.

"They are a rabies vector species," he told Capital News Service previously. "In other words, raccoons, skunks and foxes are more likely to carry rabies."

But those in support of the bill disagreed.

Skunks have no homing skills, and "they have one and only one mechanism for defense, and you all know what that is," Owings told the committee.

The lack of homing instinct combined with the fact that pet skunks typically have their scent glands removed when they are four to five months old, means the animals are not left outside where they could contract rabies, Owings said.

Also testifying was Jane Bone, the founder of Skunks as Pets, Inc., and the owner of multiple skunks in Georgia, a state in which skunk ownership is legal. Bone said she has been "bitten once a day, every day, for the past 30 years," but added, "I have a lot of serious health problems, but one of them I don't have is rabies."

According to Center for Disease Control statistics, Owings said, there were 42 reported cases of rabies in the United States from 1991-2000. However, only one was from a wild skunk bite, while the other 41 cases were from dogs, bats and coyotes. Just one of the rabies cases came from a bite from an animal in the United States - the skunk bite. The others occurred when travelers were bitten.

Supporters of the bill made it a point to distinguish between wild and domesticated skunks. While domesticated skunks are raised by professional breeders, Bone said she is strongly opposed to domesticating wild skunks.

When questioned by a committee member about the loving nature of skunks, Owings replied, "When you get to be my age, and companionship is lacking, you find one animal that gives you unconditional love."