Are you a zoophilist, another word for animal lover? Did you know there are 471 million pet dogs worldwide, and about 370 million cat owners? Sixty percent of pet owners are female, according to a 2020 survey by the Infogroup, so for Women’s History Month let’s look at one Long Beach woman who loved her baby “kit.”
In 1957, Peggy LaBella, an English war bride, was still learning American history and customs. When a teacher friend heard Peggy was planning a trip with her husband to visit in-laws in Illinois, she filled Peggy in on a bit of Midwest history. To prepare Peggy for what she might discover, the friend told how skunks were found everywhere in Illinois and, in fact, Chicago was called “skunk town” by Native Americans. Since skunks were native to North America, Peggy had never seen one in England. She was thankful for the information and asked her learned friend if she could bring anything back for her. Her friend jokingly said a skunk.
Peggy took the request seriously. Even the laughs from her husband’s family didn’t dissuade Peggy from her quest, though they were impressed when she told them indigenous tribes in Illinois trapped the furry omnivores for their musk, which they used as a treatment for pneumonia.
Not wanting to appear as a crazy Brit to her in-laws, Peggy dropped the search in Illinois, but on the way back to California Peggy asked employees at every gas station where they stopped if they could direct her to some nearby skunks. Most of the attendants politely snickered a little and walked away. When she returned home empty handed, her friend confessed she had just been teasing about wanting a skunk.
However, Peggy was set on finding a skunk. Despite her husband’s light-hearted threat to move out if she did find one, she began her search in Southern California. Her perseverance paid off and she found a deodorized skunk which her husband called “Jasmine.” Peggy said Jasmine was a wonderful pet. She would eat anything and was even housebroken. She was just like a baby kitten, which is why young skunks are called kits.
Jasmine was highly intelligent and knew which rooms she could or could not enter. She could even do tricks. One problem was Jasmine was a night owl, sleeping during the day and living it up at night. Not wanting to change their sleep patterns to suit Jasmine’s, the LaBellas restricted Jasmine’s night life to the garage after the family went to bed.
During one of Jasmine’s many mischievous evenings in the house before bedtime, the skunk overturned an open liquor bottle, drenching herself — acquiring an odor more appropriate for skid row. Peggy immediately shampooed her pet, but Jasmine broke out in a rash, necessitating a trip to the vet. It seemed the soap was too harsh and that a shave was in order. So Jasmine was shaved and for a while the LaBellas had a French-poodled skunk.
If Peggy’s story has inspired you to want a pet skunk, you are out of luck. It is now illegal to own them in California as well as Illinois. Only 17 states allow domesticated skunks. So, if you want one you need to move to Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, or Wyoming.
However, skunk lovers abound. Twenty one years ago the Ohio Skunkfest was created, where skunk lovers from as far away as Florida and New Mexico gather to celebrate their nontraditional pets.