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Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017
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Couple adopts unlikely pet passion

HUDSON - It started five years ago with one skunk. Brenda and Don Hoch of Hudson were in a pet store when they saw someone holding a baby skunk. Don Hoch had always wanted one as a pet, and it was just so cute. A year after getting their first skunk, Spike, from the pet store, the Hochs got another. They realized they had a way with skunks. Their relatives thought they were crazy, Brenda Hoch said. But that didn't stop the Hochs from collecting more.
The Hochs now have 15 skunks. All but Spike were obtained through Florida Skunk Rescue. The organization is a network of Florida skunk owners dedicated to finding homes for skunks whose owners can't care for them any longer. Four of the Hochs' pet skunks are rescues waiting for new homes. "A lot of our rescues are skunks that needed someone to work with them because they were neglected in the home they came from and consequently became biters," Brenda Hoch said. "We've worked with them and have gotten them to become friendly again." The Hochs often take a couple of their skunks to the local flea market, where they get mixed responses. But everyone wants to know: Do they smell? The answer is no. The skunks are de-scented at two to three weeks old, which means there is no fear they will ever spray their owners. Another Hudson resident, Judy Slade, is the founder of Florida Skunk Rescue. Slade, the Hochs and other Florida residents work together to rescue and house the furry critters. In 2001, a friend of Slade's told her a dog and cat rescue in Sarasota had a skunk and its operators weren't sure what to do with it. The only skunk rescue they could find was in Ohio. "They literally had to call somebody all the way up there," Slade said. "Right then, it dawned on me that we needed a skunk rescue." Slade said that no matter where you live in Florida, the rescue has a contact fewer than two hours away who can take in a pet skunk that is no longer wanted. Slade has two skunks, both rescues, but she's had up to eight. So why skunks? Slade was in a pet store with her boyfriend in 1975 when they saw baby skunks. "We looked down, and there were these little black-and-white fur balls. And he said, 'Oh look, they are so cute, wouldn't that be a cute companion for Kiki?' Kiki was a Persian cat. And I said, 'Sure it would.'" Slade and her boyfriend may not have worked out, but her relationship with Yasmine the skunk did. Later, Slade got another skunk because "skunks are like potato chips, you can't have just one," she said. The Hochs say pet store owners compare skunks to cats and dogs. But the Hochs disagree. As they describe the differences to a visitor, Spencer, a black-and-white-striped skunk, pulls out the drawers in the kitchen and uses them as stairs to climb to the counter in search of food. Another skunk lounges in Don Hoch's lap, her eyes slowly closing as she falls asleep. Skunks need a special diet, and they feast on everything from yogurt to chicken. But, like most people, they like what they can't have. Hoch said their favorite food probably is McDonald's french fries. Skunks are food motivated, Slade said. They will do anything for it. Feeding time at the Hochs' home is a frenzied dash to pig out. Tuesday night, they had pizza, a special treat. The skunks push shiny metal bowls across the floor, fight for crumbs of tortilla chips and cuddle in the Hochs' arms. When the Hochs' skunks aren't investigating drawers or playing with the couple's three dogs, two greyhounds and Lab, they are hiding items around the house. The Hochs often find that they are missing underwear, towels and sometimes blankets. "Some of ours like to sleep in Don's nightstand drawer, and he keeps his underwear in that bottom drawer," Brenda Hoch said. One day, Don Hoch told his wife he was missing a pair of underwear. They pulled out the nightstand drawer to find 19 pairs. Slade said having a lot of skunks happens when you become a member of the rescue team. Then, poking fun at her friend Brenda Hoch, Slade said, "I usually adopt mine out." Brenda Hoch laughed and said she wasn't as bad as some skunk owners, who have had up to 30 in their home at once. "Of course, it has its drawbacks, as I get attached to them," she said.

rkaylor@tbo.com (813) 259-7600

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