NORTH RIDGEVILLE — A cohort of unusual pet owners came to South Central Park on Saturday for the 17th annual Skunk Festival.
The event, benefiting Skunk Haven, a local nonprofit skunk rescue and educational center, is known for its dedicated visitors, who didn’t let a bit of rain deter them from enjoying the company of other skunk owners, or educating the public about the often misunderstood pets.
Owners and vendors travel from across the country for the meet-up, like Robin Peterson, who came up from Jacksonville, Florida, with her 2-year-old, smoke-colored skunk Prince.
“It’s fun,” she said. “This is my third time here, I really enjoy it — (get to) meet new people.”
Originally from Minnesota, which doesn’t allow skunks as pets, she moved to Florida after having the animals as companions under a permit for the past 20 years.
“All the skunks I’ve had have really bonded with me, they like to sleep with me and they come when you call them. He’s playful, I’ve had one that was actually more playful than him. They’re just great animals.”
Skunks scurried around the park on leashes, rode in strollers or struggled to climb down from their owners’ arms to explore the muddy grounds. While a strict no-touching rule was in place — for the skunks’ safety as much as attendees — pet owners were happy to talk about their animals to passers-by, educating them on the nuances of their unusual companions.
Candice Montero and Rob Mylo, both of Canton, brought Montero’s niece, Krista, 16, to the festival to see her favorite animal. Krista said she researched the woodland creature, even doing a school project on them, and her favorite kind of skunk is the Western spotted skunk — a black and white skunk with stripes on its front and spots along its back toward its tail.
“She’s hoping to one day have a skunk, so this was her birthday gift was to come out here so she can see it,” Montero said.
Krista said she hadn’t seen a skunk in the wild before, and was enjoying seeing all the different kinds roaming the park.
“They petted some skunks and some ferrets, so it was definitely educational,” Mylo said.
As for next year, Montero and Mylo both said they’d like to come back — hopefully with better weather.
“I would actually like to see it become more of a tradition for us,” Montero said.
Mallory Neal, of Columbus, was pushing her skunk, 2-year-old Piper, in a stroller. The small, black-and-white skunk was at home on her pink blanket, with a toy by her side as Neal wheeled her between vendor booths on muddy grass. She said she got Piper after months of research because she wanted a unique pet, and now wakes up every morning sharing her bed with her husband, two dogs and a skunk.
“I actually had surgery a few months after we got her,” Neal said. “So I was having some brain surgery, so she was like a recovery animal for me. So it was really great — I think she saved me more than I saved her.”
This is Neal’s second time at the festival, and she said it is a great way for owners to meet one another.
“I think it’s awesome because you get all this uniqueness in one place and you see all these different types of people that all love this one really cool, weird thing,” she said. “And it’s just really neat — it’s like a melting pot all around skunks.”
Rob Whalen, of Ruffs Dale, Pennsylvania, would agree. He and his family drove up with their 1-year-old, black-and-white skunk Kuba — named after Whalen’s favorite cigar brand.
“My uncle had one when he was a kid and he always would tell me stories about it eating popcorn and (sitting) on his shoulder and that,” Whalen said. “And I’ve always been fascinated with them and finally talked the wife into letting me get one, and he gets along with everybody.”
Rounding out their menagerie at home is his youngest daughter’s ball python and a rabbit.
“We’re not a cat-and-dog family,” Whalen said.
This is the family’s second year at the festival. Last year, Kuba was crowned prince and this year Whalen entered him in the costume contest as a blue Crayola crayon — complete with a 3- D-printed hat Whalen made himself.
“It’s an awesome place because you can’t see skunks like this anywhere else, like this many and all the different breeds and colors and that,” he said. “It’s a great event for the family (to) see skunks of all types and that they’re nothing to be afraid of.”