ANNAPOLIS – Vicki Turner owns two dogs, two cats, three turtles and a bird, but Maryland law forbids her from owning the one pet she covets: a skunk.
“I’ve always wanted one, but I can’t get one because they’re illegal in the state,” she said.
Turner wanted a skunk so badly that she started a petition drive to change the state law, and successfully lobbied Delegate George W. Owings III, D-Anne Arundel, to introduce a bill in the General Assembly to classify skunks as domestic pets.
“I’ve been bugging (Owings) for 3 years about this, and he finally agreed to file the bill,” she said.
Owings confirms the account.
“Well, I thought she was kidding at first,” he said. He had no idea skunks were once legal pets, nor that they are illegal now.
The state of Maryland holds its nose when it comes to residents keeping the critters as pets.
A 1980 law banned skunks and foxes, from being sold, bartered or traded in the state. The law was passed after reports in 1977 that a rabid skunk exposed 10 people to rabies. Unlike with dogs, there is no vaccine to inoculate skunks for the disease.
Turner, a Lothian resident, heard that some people did own skunks as pets and decided to research the animals. She said she discovered they are friendly, litter-box trainable and not any more likely to get rabies than any other animal as long as they’re kept inside. Domestic skunks, which are not captured from the wild, are usually spayed and surgically “deskunked.”
Owings gave in to Turner’s lobbying when she presented him with hundreds of signatures she gathered from his district. He pre-filed a bill to change the law for early consideration in the next legislative session.
It would be a simple change, he said: merely adding skunks to the list of domestic animals in the same way ferrets were added in 1996 despite similar fears of rabies.
Turner enlisted the help of national skunk experts to help her cause.
Jane Bone, founder of Skunks As Pets Inc., has been rescuing sick and injured animals for more than 30 years. In skunk circles, she is known as “the Skunk Lady.”
Bone, who lives in Georgia, said she encouraged Turner to fight on, because the animals can make great pets.
Because black and white skunks are illegal in Georgia, Bone said she owns blonde ones, white ones, gray ones and various shades of brown.
“I have more than one skunk, but less than 100,” she joked.
It’s a myth that skunks carry rabies, she said, citing Centers for Disease Control studies reporting there is no true carrier of rabies. Animals can only contract the disease after contact with another rabid animal.
Despite such evidence, she said, some health officials are simply resistant to new ideas. But, 18 states do allow skunks as pets, she said.
“They are rabies vector species,” said Maryland Public Health Veterinarian Clifford Johnson. “In other words, raccoons, skunks and foxes are more likely to carry rabies.”
Johnson opposes a change in the law for two reasons: the lack of a rabies vaccine for skunks and, like with dogs and cats, careless owners could expose domestic skunks to wild animals.
There is a rabies vaccine that could be effective on skunks, said Brad Kessler, head of Owners of Pet Skunks. A raccoon vaccine is being tested for applicability to skunks, he said. Only one rabies case was reported last year after 9,000 doses of raccoon vaccine were distributed around the Annapolis Neck Peninsula area.
Kessler, one of 13 skunk breeders in York, Pa., said skunks are popular pets in his state. More than 500 people subscribe to his organization’s newsletter, he said.