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updated: 10/27/2011 5:40 PM

Skunk trappings at record high in suburbs

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  • The skunk population in the area is at a record high. More than 700 skunks have been trapped to date this year as they scour neighborhoods in search of beetle grubs, berries and other delicacies.

      The skunk population in the area is at a record high. More than 700 skunks have been trapped to date this year as they scour neighborhoods in search of beetle grubs, berries and other delicacies.

  • Video: Skunk spray chemistry

  • Video: Skunk 101

 
 

What do you do if your dog gets sprayed by a skunk?

For one thing, don't bring it into the house.

That's a lesson Megan Schickedanz of Palatine learned the hard way when her 4-year-old pet German Shepherd mix, Quimby, got skunked last Thursday night.

"We were panicked. We didn't know what to do," she said.

Schickedanz and her husband, Brian, bathed their dog several times with Dawn dishwashing soap and a mixture of peroxide and baking soda until the odor diminished -- but their home was a different animal.

The couple took off work the next day to de-skunk their home, from cleaning the upholstery to steam-cleaning all the carpets.

"Cleaning the dog took an hour. That was easy. Cleaning the house took 12 hours," Schickedanz said. "We didn't realize how much the smell would inundate our house. It just smelled like the most foul, potent stench I have ever smelled."

With skunks running amok in suburban yards, local authorities are advising suburban residents on how to avoid getting skunked and how to keep their pets safe from the foul-smelling, oily sprays of the striped critters.

Wildlife experts say the skunk population in the six-county suburban region is at a record high largely because skunks have few natural predators thanks to their pungent defense mechanism, and there has not been a widespread disease outbreak killing off large numbers of the population in recent years.

More than 700 skunks have been trapped to date this year as they scour neighborhoods in search of beetle grubs, berries and other delicacies.

Experts say it's nothing to cause alarm as nature will eventually exert its own population control -- skunks typically succumb to an airborne virus known as distemper that also can affect unvaccinated pets.

One skunk hot spot is Des Plaines. Sightings are up significantly and trappings have doubled over the previous year, officials said.

The city, unlike many of its neighbors, runs its own animal control program. While it budgeted a little more than $3,000 for skunk removal, this year the city already has spent more than $4,500, Police Chief Jim Prandini said.

"It's a banner year for them," Prandini said. "Current protocol is to have our animal control inspector offer a cage" so residents can trap the skunks, which then are turned over to ABC Wildlife of Arlington Heights.

"We are one of the few towns that still provide a service to handle the problem," Prandini said. "We're looking to hopefully speed up the process, get outside animal control vendors involved to reduce some of the work" for city employees.

ABC Wildlife destroys skunks in accordance with state law. Captured skunks cannot be released because they have a higher than average rabies occurrence, officials said.

The agency works directly with residents and municipalities throughout the six-county region servicing more than 100 homes a day with traps. In 2010, ABC Wildlife trapped 563 skunks. So far this year, the company has caught 735 skunks. "What keeps their population in check is the control of their food source and disease," said Rebecca Fyffe, a state-certified wildlife biologist and wildlife educator for ABC Wildlife.

Skunks' preferred snack in preparation for winter is the beetle grub -- a high-fat, protein-rich food similar in its nutritional makeup to pine nuts.

Fyffe said often when residents call suspecting moles wrecking their yard, it's actually skunks digging conical holes in search of grubs. Though skunks troll for food throughout the year, the digging gets more prevalent right before winter months when skunks hole up in dens.

"Skunks are storing up fat for the winter season," Fyffe said.

Fyffe said the skunk population is likely to continue to grow for a couple of years before a wave of distemper regulates it.

The best ways for homeowners to protect their property are to clear their yards of wood piles and brush, keep pet food indoors, and install fences that go below ground level to protect decks, stoops and sheds. Skunks will burrow under obstacles that don't go into the ground, she said.

Residents can call ABC Wildlife's 24-hour help line -- (847) 870-7175 -- to get advice from a wildlife biologist on how to clean pets who have been sprayed, or for instructions on how to install fences.

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