Is Slider one of the only paraplegic educational skunks in Canada?
“I’m going to guess ‘probably,'” said Laurel Beechey, a MNRF-sanctioned wildlife rehabilitator in Tillsonburg, and the owner of two educational skunks, Slider and Shimmy.
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Job requirements for educational skunks are not that demanding, and Beechey has been pleased with Slider’s progress so far as the skunk prepares for her first official educational opportunity after being descented.
“Skunks make good educational animals. All they have to do is look cute, move around a little bit. I do the educating, they attract the attention. Literally, you can see the audience’s eyes glaze over as you’re talking, just like any talk you go to, but as soon as you pull out that skunk, it’s like… ‘whooooa!’ Then you’ve got their attention!”
Slider, who has paralysis in her front legs, gets even more attention.
“I basically got this skunk from another rehabber to see if it should be put down or not. When I got it, this little girl was motoring. She had no idea she had a problem.”
It could have been an injury inflicted by another animal, it could have been from being restricted inside the mother’s womb.
“Sometimes there’s so many babies they can’t move properly and that’s caused damage, which in that case means the skunk was…”
“Wombded,” said Laurel’s husband, Peter.
“He came up with that,” Laurel smiled.
“Literally, we don’t know why it happened, but it seems to be the only problem Slider has – the front legs don’t work.”
After some at-home massaging, they found one leg responds slightly, enough to help prop itself up.
“Otherwise she’s flat on the floor. It’s so unnatural for them.”
The priority for rehabilitators is to release wildlife back into the ‘wild.’ That was never going to happen for Slider. It was educational animal or being put down.
“What did it for me… one, we’ve had a blind skunk and she did fine in the (skunk-proofed) house – and best educational animal I ever had – with that disability. With Slider, it became very personal. When I was young, I was in wheelchairs. I could not run. I’ve never been able to kneel long. I’ve had a lot of problems – and surgeries – with my legs and knees… and my parents didn’t put me down.”
An older skunk, Beechey admits, she would never consider it.
“We get them basically as babies, so they haven’t been out in the wild and doing all this stuff. If it was a three-year-old skunk that was suddenly paraplegic, I would put it down – in a heartbeat – because that skunk’s whole life has gone terribly wrong. This one has no idea it has a problem.
“It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s very hard for a rehabber to put down any animal. I am one of the people who will stress to my friends, there are times you need to put this animal down. It isn’t fair if they’re in pain. Slider, she has never been in pain. If there was any pain, I would put her down. I’ve gone through that my whole life, too, and it’s not pleasant.”
Beechey suspects Slider’s condition might deteriorate long term – and in time might cause pain – because of the position the skunk moves.
“It’s unnatural for her spine to be in the shape it is. I’m presuming she’s going to develop arthritis.”
The average age for wildlife in southern Ontario is two years, said Beechey, although they could live 5-6 years in correct situations, and longer in northern Ontario if there isn’t a drought.
“I am happy if they live three to five years. Five years, to me that’s a turning point. One of the farm-raised skunks we got from the States, legally, lived to nine. The other one lived to six or seven years, which was amazing.”