10 Animal Volunteer Gigs You’d Quit Your Job to Do Full-Time

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

Donating your time to through volunteer work is a fantastic way to be the change you want to see in the world. And if you’re an animal lover, you can use this opportunity to make a tremendous impact in the lives of pets, wild animals, or even the environment as a whole.

Best of all, some animal volunteer opportunities are so extraordinarily awesome, you’ll wish you could do it all the time!

If your idea of volunteering is devoting every Saturday to back-breaking manual labor that doesn’t give you warm fuzzies, you’ll be glad to know there is a whole world of animal-related volunteer options that will warm your heart — and they all come with plenty of fuzzies.

Snuggle with kittens and play with puppies

Animal shelters around the world need compassionate animal lovers (like you!) to socialize their animals. Most of these gigs involve cleaning up after the pets, so if you’re willing to do a little pooper scooping, you can have the cushy job of cuddling with kitties and playing fetch with puppies. Whether you’re doing this for an animal shelter, or your neighbor who doesn’t have the mobility to take his dog for long walks anymore, this one’s a pet-lover’s dream come true.

Photo by Lydia Torrey on Unsplash

Build Parrot Puzzles

Anyone who’s ever met a parrot knows they are way too smart to languish in cages without love. That’s why parrot rescues need creative people like you to assemble toys, build puzzles, and talk to the birds to keep their sharp minds active. But good luck trying to outsmart the macaws — they’re as clever as your average preschooler!

Photo by David Vives on Unsplash

Ride Horses

Ride a horse, do some good. If you’re a skilled equestrian, you can train horses, give riding lessons, rehabilitate abused or neglected horses, or help therapy horses do their jobs. You can even lead trail rides. There’s an endless to-do list for horse-loving volunteers.

Photo by Chris Neumann on Unsplash

Citizen Science

Join the likes of Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, and Florence Nightingale and become a citizen scientist. This one is especially fun, because being a citizen scientist could mean anything from participating in the annual Audubon Christmas bird count to scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef to monitor the fish. Got a telescope? Map the stars. Like bugs? Study spiders. The world is your oyster.

Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Make your home a butterfly sanctuary

You can turn your yard a pollinator’s paradise. This one is perfect for people who aren’t big on socializing, but still want to make an impact by supporting local wildlife. You can do this in conjunction with your local horticultural club or just wing it (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Fix feral cats

In major cities, over-large feral cat populations can be problematic for wild birds and can spread diseases. Humanely trapping ferals, taking them to a participating veterinarian, and releasing them back to their outdoor home is a great way to keep their populations in check without harming them. Plus, you get to pet all the neighborhood kitties!

Photo by Max Kleinen on Unsplash

Wildlife photography

Nothing inspires donors to open their wallets quite like beautiful animal photography and successful projects. Take original photos for wildlife charities or snap a few selfies with your local animal shelter’s kitties for Instagram. Whatever your subject, you’ll love this behind-the-scenes role.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Zoo volunteering

Want to care for big cats or monitor marsupials? At many zoos, teens and adults can get up close and personal with the animals. You can ask your local zoo what needs to be done, so you could be an animal handler, petting zoo coordinator, wildlife champion, mascot, groundskeeper, greeter, and so much more.

Photo by Anthony Yin on Unsplash

Animal blogging

If you’re a writer, you’ll love this one. Support your favorite wildlife conservation projects or animal rescue center without leaving your couch. Use your dual love of animals and creative writing to encourage people to donate, to educate them about upcoming projects, or help them determine whether their neighbor’s fat tabby is a mountain lion or not (it’s not). If you’re an internet-dwelling wordsmith and animal lover, this one’s perfect for you.

Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

Have you caught the animal volunteerism bug? What other dream gigs have you found?

The perfect small pet might be right under your nose

I can’t remember exactly how this pet came into my life, but I distinctly remember it being one of the coolest, most interesting, and easiest critters I’d ever had.

And grew up with a lot of pets.

Dogs and cats, yes. But also chinchillas, cockatiels, hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, fish, a rabbit, a hedgehog, and an assortment of frogs/toads. Oh, and a leopard gecko. And a bunch of hermit crabs. And one impulse-adopted escape-artist shrimp.

(Despite all indications to the contrary, I did not grow up on a farm or a zoo.)

I loved all those pets, in one way or another. Some were friendlier than others, some were challenging to keep, and some became my best friends. No matter the species, all of my many pets had the best home I could give them at the time, and were all special to me.

But one tiny pet made a big mark on my memory.

The stick bug.

aka stick insect, aka walking stick, aka phasmid

Now, I am not a bug lover. Insects play a vital role in the ecosystem, sure, but I wouldn’t be too upset if I never saw another spider in my house ever again. Yuck.

So for me to keep an insect as a pet was a pretty big deal.

The stick bug – which, sadly, I never named – was highly cool. It was about 8 inches long, greenish-brown, skinny, and a dead ringer for an actual stick. When I could spot it, that is.

There’s more than one in here! How many do you see? Image: Phasmid Study Group

There are a lot of ‘pros’ for keeping a walking stick insect as a pet.

  • Walking sticks are surprisingly friendly. When handled slowly and gently, they don’t seem to mind being picked up. It’s hard to tell, but they might even like it, since they’ll crawl onto your hand quite readily. Like any animal, they can bite when handled roughly, but it’s extremely unlikely.
  • They’re super chill. They don’t scurry, dart, scuttle, jump, or fly. All they do is walk slowly in a non-creepy way. They have no interest (or ability) to infest your home if they escape.
  • They eat romaine lettuce. In nature, stick insects eat whatever plants are outside, but in captivity, a leaf of lettuce is all they need. Now, this is species-dependent, so you really must do some googling to make sure you’re feeding yours correctly.
  • They’re silent, odorless, and clean. Your landlord will have nothing to complain about.
  • They’re low maintenance. A stick insect will live quite happily in a well-ventilated 10-15 gallon aquarium decked out with twigs and leaves. Room temperature is just right for them, and a gentle daily misting provides all the water they need. Of course, you’ll need to remember to clean up wilted lettuce and refresh the environments once in awhile, but other than that, there’s not a lot of care. Arguably, walking sticks are the easiest exotic pet there is.
  • They don’t have long lifespans. Time to get real. If you’re not sure how much of a commitment you want to make to small pet ownership, you’re in luck. Stick bugs only live about a year.

If you can’t (or don’t want to) care for a cat, dog, or hamster, walking sticks might be just the ticket.

Best of all, they live wherever you do.

Stick insects live on every continent except Antarctica, and if you have a keen eye, you can probably find one in your backyard right now.

I did once. I have no idea how I managed to see this little fella walking in the grass outside my home, but I did. 

Do you see it?

Sounds awesome right? Read this fine print before you bring one home.

  • Stick insects are just as fragile as they look. Only careful adults should pick them up, and even then only as gently as possible.
  • Make sure there’s enough room for your bug’s environment, because they can get quite large. They like to hang upside down, too, so the top of the aquarium/terrarium should be mesh.
  • Purchase your insect from a reputable company. It’s not nice to take wild animals from their natural environment. On the other hand, non-native stick insects are illegal to keep as pets in the US, so do some research either way.
  • Important: If you have a pet stick bug, do not let it outside. Depending on the species you’ve adopted, it could be an invasive ecological pest.

If you do decide to get a pet walking stick insect, be a responsible pet parent (because it is a pet) and do your homework. There are over 3,000 phasmid species to explore!

But if you aren’t ready for that kind of commitment, just take another look in your backyard! You might be in for a surprise.

Harness the power of social media to fight illegal animal trafficking

You love animals. Of course you do! That’s why you love seeing adorable animal pictures on social media.

But if you really truly love animals, you’ll learn the signs of trafficking on social media and use those same tools to fight back.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

I know, baby tigers are cuter than anything, and you’ve always wanted to hug a monkey. Cheetahs riding in the back of Lamborghinis is the stuff of your most envious 1%er dreams.

That’s why Instagram shows it to you.

You can’t help but see perfectly-posed animals sharing our human space, and want to keep one as a pet. It’s science.

So whether it was intentional or not, social media has become the biggest driver for international animal trafficking, abuse, and the illegal wildlife trade.

That’s right. Black market animal trafficking doesn’t just happen on the darkweb anymore. You don’t even need to turn on incognito mode because happens right in front of our eyes.

And we “love” it.

A recent study of YouTube videos showed that when people see human-exotic animal interactions, the reactions are overwhelmingly positive.

Today, there are efforts in place on most social media platforms to slow pet sales. In 2017, Facebook and Instagram banned the sale of all animals: exotic or domestic. Their seemingly-robust algorithms frequently flag harmless products that reference threatened animals in any way. (Try posting an innocuous item on the Facebook marketplace and describe the color as “ivory” or “mink,” I dare you.) This might make you think what you’re seeing has been vetted by the algorithm and isn’t abuse.

But it can be.

Photo by Bisakha Datta on Unsplash

Animal traffickers are smarter than the platforms’ AI. They’ll phrase things a certain way, use specific terms, or use posed photos that don’t tell the whole story. This is how they list wild animals for sale to unsuspecting people like you and me.

You’ve seen this practice, I’m sure. Don’t we all have some relative who talks about the pandemic as “c0v1d” or types “wax seen” instead of vaccine? The idea is to trick the AI into thinking you’re talking about something else. And it often works!

Many of these practices are just as easy to spot. If you see the phrase “baby tiger for sale” along with a WhatsApp number, you can be pretty confident that illegal endangered animal trafficking is going on.

Facebook is one of the biggest drivers for sales, but Instagram is where people get the idea of owning these pets in the first place.

Most of us feel like Instagram is the most picture-perfect aspirational social media platform out there. So when we see our favorite influencer snuggling with their ultra-exotic pet, we want to do that, too.

Instagram knows about this.

If you search a specific hashtag like #slothselfie or #petcheetah, you’ll get a popup telling you that animal exploitation is wrong. But it’s a one-click bypass to see hundreds of jealousy-inducing photos. Try it in another language — particularly Arabic, because the majority of cheetah trafficking takes place in Saudi Arabia — and you’ll see even more posts and NO warning popup.

Photo by Ahmed Galal on Unsplash

Cheetahs are in especially hot water right now. They’ve come to symbolize extreme wealth, so owning one has become the ultimate status symbol, driving demand for this fragile species up. Way up.

In 2018, The Cheetah Conservation Fund found that 1,367 documented cheetahs went up for sale between 2012 and 2018.

That’s 20% of the entire cheetah population. In the world.

One fifth of all cheetahs were for sale, and most of them on social media.

And that’s just the ones that survived trafficking long enough to get posted.

Yeah.

The ACCO found that most wildlife trading takes place in broad daylight for everyone to see. No cloak and dagger, just public social media posts.

So here’s what we need to do.

  • Don’t like, share, or comment on any images that you think portray an illegal exotic pet or trafficked wild animal. Instead, like, share, or comment on images of animals living free in the wild or being cared for by reputable organizations. AZA-accredited zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and reputable wildlife accounts that promote positive conservation and education get the green light.
  • Don’t like, share, or comment on touristy images of people snuggling with wild or endangered animals. It looks like an amazing bucket list experience, but it is abuse. This one can be hard to spot, since some of the hashtags and organizations putting them on look legit. These “encounter” experiences are often billed as humane or even as a conservation project, so many of us have fallen for this trap. But there are loads of humane wildlife tourism alternatives out there — support them instead!
  • Don’t like, share, or comment on anything that makes you think the animal (or a part of it) is for sale. Sometimes it’s very obvious, sometimes it’s not. Instead, report these crimes whenever you see them. If you think you’ve seen wildlife trafficking — including wild animals for sale, ivory or animal parts for sale, or abusive videos — report it to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

But by reporting what we see and refusing to support abuse, we can do our small parts to reduce the demand on trafficked animals.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Book Review ~ Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery

Ecologists want to see a healthier planet, and some have found a path to this recovery through rewilding — that is, reintroducing species to their native habitats after being wiped out. And as it turns out, there are wildly different approaches to this truly radical technique. From delicate moves (like replacing an extinct tortoise species with a similar one in the Mauritian Islands) to sledgehammer action (think bringing back mammoths), rewilding begs the question, “How? And more importantly, should we?”

“Rewilding” is a great introduction to the topic, which is multifaceted in the extreme. This book explores the history of rewilding — what’s worked, what’s failed, and what’s on the horizon — as well as the ripple effects. As an armchair ecologist, most of these approaches were new to me. But I did recognize a few rewilding efforts, including Pleistocene Park and the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. I appreciated the mentions of plant and insect rewilding, too, which are often eclipsed by megaherbivores and other showy species.

While it is intended as an overview and introduction, this book sometimes get technical, so a background in biology would be helpful for most readers. The language drifts between pop sci and textbook, but there are lots of great illustrations to help clear up sticky concepts. Plenty of beautiful photographs and well-placed diagrams.

“Rewilding” is a fantastic conversation starter, leaving the reader with lots of food for thought. An excellent foundation for building new knowledge on this tangled topic.

Thanks to NetGalley, the authors, and the publisher for providing a copy of this ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Top 10 Awesome Animals that Inspired Me in 2021

As we finally turn the last page of our 2021 calendars, many of us are making our Top 10 lists to commemorate things we loved this year. Top 10 Best Songs, Top 10 Favorite Books, Top 10 Movies, and so on.

Those are all great, but I like animals. There are some pretty cool ones out there.

But I quickly discovered that I couldn’t simply pick 10 favorites. That’s too big of an ask! So instead, I thought about the animals that have ‘wowed’ me recently. Some have fascinating facts or backstories, others are weirdly wonderful, and some are just plain cute.

Have a look at all these animals that are close to my heart for one reason or another. Be sure to let me know which are your favorites, too!

Vicuña

I love the vicuña conservation story. Once hunted almost to extinction, wild vicuñas are now sustainably herded, shorn, and returned to their homes in the Andes mountains. This process is called chaccu and it involves hundreds of community members literally joining hands to create a human chain. The people slowly close the circle and guide the vicuñas to an enclosure so they can humanely harvest wool. Because this low-impact annual event doesn’t require domesticating vicuñas, the animals are simply released to the wild or dedicated nature preserves. Vicuñas’ extremely valuable wool supports the Peruvian economy and traditions, AND has increased the populations of these adorable little camelids. Everyone benefits!

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar waxwings are sleek (but clumsy) colorful (but drab from a distance) quiet (but incredibly annoying) and widely distributed (but often go unnoticed).


Also, they’re shameless drunks.

Vampire Bat

Yes yes, it drinks blood. Very spooky. But check out that nose! All leaf-nosed bats use their extra-sensitive noses to find their prey with astounding accuracy, and vampire bats use specialized heat sensors in theirs to zero in on blood vessels. Wild, right?

I had a close encounter with a (non-vampire) bat earlier this year which rather forced me to learn more about these amazing animals. I’ve always appreciated bats’ roles in the ecosystem and admired their unique skills, so as unsettling as the encounter was, it was a stroke of luck that led me to learning more about these amazing animals.

Walking Stick Insect

Unless you live in Antarctica, you’ve probably seen a stick bug without even realizing it. Despite its god-tier camouflage, I was lucky enough to spot one in the grass a few years ago! They’re very friendly, as far as bugs go, so the kids and I were able to pick it up and play with it for a moment before returning it to a nearby bush.

I haven’t seen one of these cuties lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been looking!

Okapi

Until 1901, okapis were cryptids. They have crazy looking bums, yet keep such a low profile that until then, most people considered them mythological creatures. Clearly, they’re real. You can’t help but wonder which other “impossible” creatures are out there just waiting to be discovered. The “jungle horse” is a great reminder to never stop searching.

Woolly Aphid

Woolly aphids are pests to most people, but I like finding these little cuties in my tomato garden. My kids call them fairies.

Okay, I admit it. I do, too.

Bobcat

Bobcats are firecrackers! They’re small, feisty, eat just about anything, live just about everywhere in the US, plus they’re cute and fluffy. What’s not to love?

I recently worked with The Felidae Conservation Fund on a research project to introduce these (and other!) beautiful cats to more readers. It was an absolute pleasure learning more about bobcats and putting them in perspective. Sadly, I found out that they live almost everywhere… except where I am! I’m holding out hope that I’ll see one from a safe distance someday — their numbers are steadily climbing nationwide and there have been recent sightings in my area!

Pufferfish

The “leave me alone” fish have surprisingly endearing personalities. Pufferfish are rather intelligent (for a fish) and can be trained to do tricks. How amazing is that!?

Poison Dart Frog

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the rainforest. I still am, but it was My Thing when I was about 9. Poison dart frogs are teeny tiny, ultra toxic, almost supernaturally colorful, amazingly varied, and are essentially the symbol of the Amazon Rainforest, so they’ve always been a favorite of mine. Whenever I visit my local zoo, I never miss the poison dart frog exhibit. No matter how many times I’ve seen them, I am always surprised how adorable they are!

Gray Squirrel

Squirrels. I just like ’em.

If you enjoyed this top 10, I encourage you to make one of your own! I’d love to see which animals inspire you and why, so please feel free to tag me in your post. Have fun and happy new year!

Saving the World One Mail-Order Lordship at a Time

Yes, it’s a lot of fun to run around and insist that people call me Lady Sarah, but it’s also a clever way to conserve the countryside.

That’s because I can’t call myself a Lady without actually owning a piece of land in Scotland.

Highland Titles sells souvenir Lordships, Ladyships, and Lairdships of Glencoe, each associated with a small dedicated plot set aside in the Highland Titles Nature Reserve. Mine’s near Kiel Hill.

And the land that came with my title is mine, mine, all mine. 

Nobody may do anything to it or on it without my express permission. And when I die, that property passes to my heirs. That means my 100 square feet of Scottish wilderness will remain untouched indefinitely.

Except by me, if I want. I can visit my parcel of prairie, set up a tent to camp, or hug my trees in the room-sized plot anytime I wish. As part of the nature preserve, it can’t be paved or built up. No fishing, hunting, or chopping down trees, either.

Scotland boasts some of the most amazing and varied landscapes on the planet. From staggeringly steep cliffs to marshy bogs to dense ancient forests, it’s home to a huge variety of plants and animals.

Watch the trail cams to see animals playing in the reserve. Badgers, red squirrels, roe deer, pine martens, golden eagles, and even wildcats have been spotted in the area.

No doubt they appreciate the space to roam.

Honestly, this is a win-win. I get to demand everyone call me by my rightful title and I do my part in keeping the wild wild. 

And you can lower that skeptical eyebrow when it comes to my ladyship.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t actually have a claim to peerage. I’m not a noblewoman. True, I have papers proving my landownership, but I’m more of a landlady than a land Lady. 

It’s clearly an honorary title as thanks for purchasing a souvenir piece of land. Not legal admission into the House of Lords, so calm down. 

The title is all in good fun and increases tourism in a positive way.

That’s because Highland Titles Lords, Ladies, and Lairds live all around the world. The nature preserve has seen upwards of 6,000 nature-loving tourists a year, many of whom surely wouldn’t have visited if they didn’t have a claim to it.

The preserve is staffed by volunteers so the maximum amount of profits go toward conservation. They make active efforts to set up the preserves, plant trees, promote rewilding, and stoke curiosity in Scotland’s wildlife. They’ve even set up a hedgehog rescue center!

So if you’re looking for a way to support conservation while poking fun at your snooty friends and family, Highland Titles should be on the top of your gift list.

I was given my ladyship as a tongue-in-cheek gift years ago, but the more I think about it, the more I recognize the true value of my Highland Title.

This article is in no way sponsored. I actually do have a mail-order ladyship and think it’s cute and clever. Whatever gets people to pitch in and fund conservation, know what I mean?

If Lisa Frank was tasked with designing a bird, it’d be the ocellated turkey

Most wild turkeys look something like this…

Photo by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash

Or this…

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

But then there’s this fella.

National Audubon Society

Meet the ocellated turkey — wannabe peacock and birdwatchers’ darling.

And one of the most flamboyant birds I’ve ever seen.

There are six types of wild turkeys: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and our prismatic friend. Most turkeys can be found in Canada and the USA, but the ocellated version lives exclusively on the Yucatan Peninsula. Their small region includes only a small part of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. 

And yes, if you visit Yucatan ruins like Tikal, you might get a glimpse of these seussical birds. They’re quite comfortable living and nesting near Mayan ruins.

Ocellated Turkeys at Tikal, Guatemala by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

Though I’m pretty confident you could identify an ocellated turkey without a description, this bird stands out in more ways than one. This species is small as far as turkeys go, topping out at 12 pounds for males and 7 pounds for females. They have neon-blue heads decorated with garish hot orange warts, but no dangling ‘beards.’ Both sexes are blindingly colorful with females only marginally duller and greener. As a bonus, these turkeys’ voices are slightly less obnoxious than that of their blander cousins.

Ocellated turkeys spend most of their time walking rather than flying and enjoy a buffet of bugs, seeds, and leaves in their rainforest homes. The ‘ocellated’ part of the name refers to eyespots on their peacock-like tail feathers. Considering the brightness of the rest of this bird, you’d be forgiven for missing that detail.

Tim Proffitt-White / Flickr

These vibrant animals are Near Threatened and declining, thanks to overhunting and habitat reduction. But all is not yet lost — the ocellated turkey fanclub is growing, drawing ecotourists and conservationists to the region.

With continued conservation efforts and increased awareness of these eye-popping birds, more and more tourists can hope to spy an ocellated turkey. For some, ocellated turkeys are on the menu, but it’s my humble opinion that they’re better enjoyed visually. Maintaining their habitats and encouraging sustainable tourism to landmarks like Tikal will help get this glorious bird back on track. 

In the meantime, check out this desperate dance our rainbow friend does for a bunch of females who couldn’t care less. At least his fashion sense is on point.


Do skunks stink as pets?

Everyone knows a friend of a friend of a friend who has a pet skunk.

But I have a confession. I’ve always kind of wanted to be that friend with a skunk.

Can you blame me? They look so soft and cuddly. And I mean, just look at this adorable face!

those nails tho

But the only skunks I’ve ever encountered have been huddled under my front porch, lumbering across the lawn, or eternally resting on the side of the road. I’ve never had the chance to pet that luscious black and white fur.

I wonder what it’d be like to cut out those degrees of separation and actually pet a skunk. Thankfully, real life skunk owners do exist and they’ve shared their thoughts on the topic.

Do they stink?

Alright, let’s just get this one out of the way. We’re all wondering it. It’s the first thing anyone asks when the topic of pet skunks comes up. Heck, it’s the first thing anyone mentions when the topic of skunks in general comes up. Their smell is so iconic, it’s synonymous with their name.

Do pet skunks deserve that level of infamy?

Short answer

No. Well, maybe.

Long answer

Did you know that skunks don’t always smell? They spray their odor from a scent gland near their tail (I’m putting it mildly here) and otherwise smell no stronger than any other pet. If you can tolerate ferrets, you’ll have no problem with skunks.

Pet skunks that were born and bred in captivity (as all legally obtained pet skunks are) often have their stink glands removed in a process called descenting. Like declawing a cat, this is a controversial procedure since it takes away the animal’s entire self-defense system. But like declawing a cat, if it’s an indoor-only animal that might otherwise be surrendered after using its defense mechanism, it’s something to consider.

But…

The legality of owning a skunk is surprisingly snarly and one state actually prohibits the practice of descenting on the grounds of unnecessary mutilation akin to debarking a dog. So if you live in Wisconsin, your skunk’s gonna stink.

Another but…

Skunks only spray when they feel threatened. If skunkie was raised right, has no predators, and has gentle and loving human companions, it’ll probably keep its stink to itself for the vast majority of its life. But if your animal is sick, injured, or startled, you’ll need to get out the tomato juice.

Anyway, it’s just smell. It’s not like the odor can kill or even injure you.

So do pet skunks smell? No. Well, maybe.

Are pet skunks nice?

They’re as sweet as they look! They’re cuddly, curious, and very playful. Also sneaky — if you’ve lost your favorite teddy bear or guest towel, check the skunk cage. They like to line their “den” with soft squishiness.

If you start with a baby skunk, the best way to bond is to keep it tucked into your shirt or sweatshirt pocket. I can’t even. There’s nothing cuter.

Photo by Bryan Padron on Unsplash

They enjoy tug of war, roughhousing, and puzzles. Got a mysterious stain? Have a particularly interesting hiding place? Your skunk will find it!

This only applies to domesticated skunks, of course. The ones that live under my porch will never make good pets.

And like all pets — especially exotics — YMMV. You absolutely cannot predict your pet’s temperament. I had a hedgehog once and everyone on the internet swore up and down it would be a lovable, snuggly little pincushion, but he wasn’t. All he wanted to do was ignore me, run in his wheel, and eat hamburger meat.

Are they smart?

As a matter of fact, they are!

Skunks are scavengers, as you may have noticed when late-night wildlife gets into your garbage. They’re curious little critters, always looking for novelty and/or bugs. Skunk-proof your house or make a special playpen full of toys, blankets, and treat puzzles like those made for dogs.

They don’t make much sound, either, so that’s a plus if you know what it’s like to live with a yappy dog.

They can learn basic tricks and yes! They can be litterbox trained!

What do they eat?

Skunk food! Who knew, right?

If not skunk chow, feed your stinky pet human-grade fresh food like vegetables, cooked chicken, nuts, grains, and crickets. The Skunk Haven website has a full meal plan worked out and honestly? It looks more nutritionally complete than mine.

Skunks love bugs. If you have a spider problem in your home, get a skunk and boom. No more spiders.

How hard is it to care for a pet skunk?

Skunks can weigh between 15 and 20 pounds, live up to 10 years, and grow to 35 inches in length. They’re like large cats that way.

Not many vets want to work with skunks, but it’s important that you find one who will. Aside from distemper shots and flea/tick treatment, you’ll want to get your skunk neutered or spayed (hah! almost wrote sprayed) because they can get pretty riled up when the female is in heat, resulting in more than just more skunks. I’m talking about scratches, bites, and property damage. They get rowdy.

Keep your skunk in the biggest dog kennel you can find. They’ll need some room to move around in there since they’re crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active at dawn and twilight. You’re probably not.

They do not like being in their cages and will need toys, things to dig, and plenty of stuff to play with. Ideally, you’d devote a corner of your garden to your little stinker’s digging habits. Those nails are no joke, and if they don’t have the opportunity to use them for foraging, well…

Can pet skunks live outside?

Nope. Without their stinkiness, they have no way to defend themselves from predators, making them a juicy morsel for your local coyote population.

But what if it still has its stink glands?

It still shouldn’t be kept outside. Pet skunks are accustomed to people and will gladly approach a smiling human face… and that might not go over well. Imagine Pepe le Pew going in for cuddles from your local cat lady. Or worse, your varmint-hating neighbor with a 12-gauge. Not going to end well.

Also, they can really move if they want! It’s no problem for skunks to wander for miles at a time and no, they don’t have a good sense of direction. Your descented and domesticated skunk is a goner if it gets lost.

What about rabies?

Ah yes. Rabies.

Wild skunks are vectors and you really don’t want to get bitten. Unfortunately, there are no approved vaccines for pet skunks, so if your pet bites a human or another animal, it will be euthanized on suspicion of rabies. You definitely don’t want that to happen, so it is absolutely vital that your skunk is not aggressive and has been properly socialized. Eliminate all chances of skunk bites and you’ll be fine.

Is it even legal to own a pet skunk?

Depends on where you live. In the United States, only 17 states permit pet skunks and only two provinces in Canada. And it absolutely must come from a licensed breeder, pet store, etc. There are permits and legalities all over the place.

Bottom line. Should I get a skunk?

Skunks are basically cats but stinkier, pickier, and higher maintenance, somehow. But they’re cuddly, curious and just a lot of fun to own — if your expectations remain low. Not to mention the phrase “I have a pet skunk” is an incredible icebreaker.

So should you get a pet skunk? Probably not. Just see if you can track down that friend of a friend of a friend who has one and get your stinky fix that way.

Book Review: The City That Barks and Roars

Okay picture this. Zootopia, right? But instead of a bunny and a fox, it’s a penguin and a monkey. And it’s the 1950s, so they’re, like, wearing fedoras and stuff. So the penguin and the monkey, they go around looking for this panda detective that’s gone missing, but also some beavers who have kind of a sketchy past, and there’s a pastor goat… a badass panther in a slinky dress… ooh, maybe an underground cat-napping ring that’s led by the dog mafia!

Honestly though, it’s pretty good. It’s funny, fast-paced, and has a solid mystery. There’s a huge cast of colorful characters/animals that really give a good feel of what Noah’s Kingdom is like. I don’t quite understand some of the animal mechanics (How does a penguin drink coffee? How does a rhinoceros drive? Where do rats get tiny cop uniforms?) but it’s really not important. If you’re going to get hung up on logic, you wouldn’t enjoy this.

Admittedly, it got off to a bumpy start and could use an eagle-eyed editor. There are a distracting number of spelling and punctuation errors. Some readers may not enjoy being addressed by the author, but I thought it was really funny that the author sneaks in asides with real animal facts.

The City That Barks and Roars by J. T. Bird is perfect for that surprisingly large intersection of people who love both silly talking animals and hardboiled detective novels.

Thanks to BookSirens, the publisher, and the author for providing a copy of this ebook. I am leaving this review voluntarily.