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Wild critters are cute, but not for pets

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Updated Jan 15, 2014 at 9:59 PM

When I was eight years old, I had a pet skunk named Squiffy.

I caught Squiffy one spring day as my kid sister Carolyn and I were walking along the dirt road we lived on. Squiffy came waddling along behind his mom with four or five of his brothers and sisters. They looked like fuzzy black tennis balls.

I chased Mama Skunk and her brood into a bushy fence row where I cornered little Squiffy and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. I yelled for Carolyn to grab her one, too, but for some reason she demurred. (She was always the smart one in the family.)

I don't recall getting sprayed, but maybe I was just too excited to notice.

I took Squiffy home and built him a cage in the barn, where he resided for a year. He became so tame that you could scratch his ears. He would eat table scraps out of your hand.

Squiffy threw his scent only once, when a neighbor's dog sneaked into the barn and spooked him.

When Squiffy would get agitated he'd stomp his front feet and hoist his tail, which was his way of telling an intruder to back off -- or else.

After a year in captivity, Squiffy was as fat and round as a butterball, his fur sleek and glossy. He was obviously healthy, but was he happy? It's hard to tell with a skunk.

Finally, I made a hard decision: I would release Squiffy back into the wild. I decided it was cruel to keep him caged up like a criminal. Squiffy hadn't done anything to deserve a life sentence behind bars.

I carried Squiffy's cage out into a nearby field and opened the door. He poked his head out, looked around and sniffed, and shuffled off to start his new life.

I'd like to think that Squiffy met a nice girl skunk, settled down, and had lots of little Squiffies. Maybe his descendents are waddling around somewhere.

I was reminded of my pet skunk by a story that keeps popping up about a Gallatin man who's battling the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency over the right to keep a pet raccoon named Rebekah. The TWRA prohibits keeping a wild animal in captivity, and ordered the raccoon set free.

The man claims to have collected 60,000 signatures on a petition he sent to the Governor, asking to be allowed to keep his coon.

I empathize with him -- I remember how attached I became to Squiffy -- but the TWRA regulation is sound and should be enforced. Capturing and attempting to make pets of wild critters is a bad idea, for a couple of reasons:

First of all, it's dangerous. Wild animals often carry an array of parasites and diseases, and a bite or scratch can cause serious problems for humans. Raccoons are especially prone to carry the rabies virus. What if a "pet" raccoon nips a kid who tries to pit it, and youngster comes down with rabies?

Secondly, if keeping wild pets were legal, overnight there would be a huge market in their capture and sale. Native populations of some of the more "cuddly" species would be decimated.

The TWRA regulation protects humans from wild animals, and protects wild animals from humans.

Wild creatures are fascinating, but they should be observed roaming free in their natural habitat, not in a cage or on a leash.

I'm sure Squiffy would agree.

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