A stink in the tale: Why Britain is swooning over the pet with a pong

The skunk might seem an odd choice for domestication, but Tom Peck is smitten

One look and she's got you, hook, line and stinker.

The little thing is unutterably adorable, with her thick, ivory-coloured fur, long tail and pointed little face, long nose and shiny black marble eyes. Her back end of course, is a markedly different prospect, but more on that later.

The skunk, originally native to the Americas, Indonesia and the Philippines, has expanded its territory to all corners of the UK.

Demand for skunks as the latest exotic pet is rising rapidly. Since 2007 it has been illegal to "de-scent" them, but would-be skunk owners are undeterred. About 2,000 are now thought to be kept in the UK. Michelle Rhodes, 38, a breeder of skunks and other exotic animals in Cosham, near Portsmouth, has had more inquiries this year than ever before. One question precedes all others.

"It's not nice," she answers. "It smells of raw garlic and burning rubber, and sticks around for three or four days. But they only do it as a last resort. If they feel they're under threat, they will spray rather than bite. But most happy skunks never do it."

Interacting with Damson, a three-year-old female, is a little like playing with a kitten. Unnervingly, though, a skunk's favourite ruse is to pretend it is going to spray, and then not. "They stamp their feet, shoot their tail in the air, then turn their body into a C-shape, so they're looking at you, and pointing at you at the same time," says Michelle's husband Sean, a business analyst. "It's really funny." Hmmm.

When the couple were caring for a traumatised male skunk, he got out of his crate and clambered up the back of a chest of drawers. Mr Rhodes opened the drawer and tried to pull him out. Mistake. "I took a direct hit, double-barrelled, right in the face from six inches," he said.

Mr Rhodes, 35, washed profusely, with hydrogen peroxide, but the smell stuck to him for days. "It didn't go down well at work. The guy who sits next to me went out and bought pot pourri and stuck it on my desk."

Mrs Rhodes, who keeps 11 raccoons, three chinchillas, seven ferrets, four chickens and three skunks at their home, said skunks appealed because they were considerably easier to keep than other exotic pets. But they are not without their challenges.

"They are diggers," she says. Little Damson certainly has the claws for it, two inches long at least. They have been known to find a stain on the carpet from years gone by, and dig to find what is under it. Not the most suitable pet for residents of blocks of flats, then. "That is very rare though. Only around one in 10 will dig up a carpet," says Mrs Rhodes.

There are also, predictably, issues around excretion. Skunks like to poo in dark corners, and teaching them to use the litter tray can be hit and miss.

Last year one of Mrs Rhodes' fellow skunk keeper friends became concerned by an intensifying aroma in the living room, unaware that for some time their pet had been politely defecating behind a bookcase. One day the owner moved it to discover a "skunk poo volcano".

Holding little Damson in the air, it seems unlikely she would be capable of such unpleasantness. But her feared scent gland is inches from my face. Even after the most robust reassurances, this remains discomforting.

Though skunks are generally docile – in more than an hour's photographing, Damson does not make a sound – it is unwise to leave one to roam the homestead unsupervised. Mrs Rhodes recommends a six-foot crate to keep them in at night, or if no one is around. They may chew through wires, and are adept at opening fridges.

But skunks do not object to being kept by themselves, and if introduced slowly, will happily share their home with all manner of other animals.

Some owners like to take their unusual pets for a walk, secured with a ferret harness, but it is not essential, and is more for the owner's entertainment – and ego – than the skunk's welfare.

One potential problem, however, is the skunk's quite staggering stupidity. If left alone in a garden or outdoors, it will wander off and, lacking the homing instincts of a cat or dog, forget where it lives and never return. This is one reason why some wildlife groups argue they should not be kept as pets – there are reports of escaped or disowned skunks breeding in the wild.

One meal a day will satisfy a skunk: a teacupful of broken dog or cat biscuits, then a quarter of a cup of fresh fruit and veg, and half a chicken breast. No more.

"They will eat whatever's put in front of them, and they will eat it all," says Mrs Rhodes. "A skunk will eat til it pops."

However, Mrs Rhodes is selective about where she will place a skunk, and has turned down potential owners in the past. "It is not something you should enter into lightly."

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
News
i100
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistant ...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is urgently recruiting...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job Randstad Education are ...

Year 1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?