October 24, 2014

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Annual Skunkfest aims to raise awareness about pet skunks

Dave Evely, of Schulylkill Haven, Pa., holds Penelope, a North American striped skunk, wearing a tiara, at SkunkFest in North Ridgeville.This year's installment is set for Saturday. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Dave Evely, of Schulylkill Haven, Pa., holds Penelope, a North American striped skunk, wearing a tiara, at SkunkFest in North Ridgeville.This year’s installment is set for Saturday. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

NORTH RIDGEVILLE –  Pity the poor skunk, the Rodney Dangerfield of the animal kingdom for getting no respect.

All this dissing of nature’s notorious black-and-white striped creature is set right this weekend when skunks take center stage during the 13th annual Skunkfest at South Central Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The day-long celebration of all things skunk includes a talent contest – despite the fact co-organizer Rene Pearlstein says skunks can’t really be trained to have talent – to a costume contest and crowning of a Skunkfest King and Queen.

While the day is geared toward fun and fundraising for the local Skunk Haven rescue shelter, there’s a little more serious side to it all.

“We try to educate people that wild skunks are not so bad,” Pearlstein said.

And despite the initially cute image of having a skunk waddle around one’s home, having one for a pet isn’t the best of ideas.

“Many people have no idea what they’re getting into,” Pearlstein said. “They think ‘How cool would it be to own a skunk’ but we tell them they really should research it first.”

While dogs and cats typically adapt to being taken in as family pets, skunks are another story.

“It usually takes them a lot longer to adapt,” Pearlstein said. “You wind up changing your lifestyle for them … not the other away around.”

Anyone pondering whether to take in a skunk needs to be dedicated to the idea, and have lots of patience. Having a skunk as a pet is “a cross between having a ferret and a 2-year-old,” Pearlstein said.

“They do what they want,” Pearlstein aid. “They’re very smart.”

This is why so many people give up in frustration, and so many skunks end up with rescue groups.

Over the years the Skunkfest has grown from its humble roots in the backyard of founder Deborah Cipriani to an event drawing more than 1,000 people from across the U.S., and gained exposure on British TV as well as being the subject of programs on the Travel Channel, Animal Planet, and the PBS’ program “Nature.”

This year’s event will reportedly include a crew from the National Geographic or Nat GEO Channel.

“We’re also listed in Ripley’s,” Pearlstein said.

Most active at night and during early morning hours, skunks rely mostly on their keen senses of hearing and smell to compensate for less-than-ideal eyesight.

The nauseous, overpowering spray that is their chief defense against predators is capable of holding off bears, cougars and rattlesnakes, according to Cipriani. Owls and other birds of prey are skunks’ one true nemesis, as they are able to swoop down from the sky, catch, and kill them.

All of the skunks at the festival have been de-scented, but visitors are still discouraged from touching them due to the creatures’ unpredictable reactions.

Skunkfest is free but donations of cash, paper towels, organic pasta, or whole grain cereals are requested.

To learn more, phone (216) 780-2000 or visit www.skunkhaven.net.