If you're in the market for a new pet, your first thought probably isn't a skunk—but every year in North Ridgeville, Ohio, a group of people gather who have other opinions on the matter. An annual festival aimed to bring together skunk lovers, skunk owners, and of course, their skunks, Skunk Fest is in its 16th year, and VICE was there to document it for the latest episode of American Conventions. (Watch the documentary above.)
While the festival only rolls around once a year, for Deborah Cipriani, it's her life. The founder of Skunk Fest and the SkunkHaven rescue program wants to teach people that skunks are just as loveable as any other animal. "Almost any animal can be a special animal, but when you bond to a skunk, or a skunk bonds to you, it's more special," she told us over the phone.
Cipriani got her first skunk, Daisy, after her mother passed away in 2000, and she's continued rescuing skunks ever since. She also helps people all over the world with their pet skunks, whether via phone, email, or in person. "This is a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week love of skunks," she said. We caught up with Cipriani to talk about life post-festival, people's receptiveness to pet skunks, and what makes skunks so special—including her skunk, Gidget, who was crowned queen at the festival.
VICE: Congrats to Gidget on winning the crown! What have you been up to since the festival?
Deborah Cipriani: We've been going to different festivities and doing educational programs with our skunks. We take our skunks out to teach people that skunks are not the smelly little animals they think they are, and to show the public that there are a lot of different varieties of colors of skunks—brown and whites, lavenders, smoked, beautiful gray skunks, and ones with funky blazes like Gidget.
We want to teach people that skunks are not bad animals—and they're not. They look at skunks a different way after—like cute little animals, instead of running from them.
What makes a skunk different from a cat or a dog?
My first skunk was very devoted to me, and I was devoted to her—she'd come when you call her and everything. It's an inner feeling between your pet skunk and you. I've had cats, dogs, mice, rats, gerbils, rabbits. I have a possum. It's just a special feeling inside when you have a pet skunk.
Do they get along with your other animals?
You just have to watch. Sometimes, dogs can play rough and they kill the skunk. With my cat, we would let her inside the house, and it seemed like they got along. The skunks didn't know what the cat was at first, but now the cat just walks amongst the skunks and it's fine.
Do the skunks have individual personalities?
Oh, yes, each skunk is different. One of my white skunks somehow climbed up on a chair that I had a bag of groceries on, and a stalk of celery was sticking out longways. Well, I came around the corner, and he was standing up longways along with the celery, and he saw me, and he kept hiding his head. He knew he was being bad [Laughs]. It's funny, because you can have a room full of skunks, and the one skunk that's doing something bad will stop and look at you, scream at you, and take off running.
When did you decide to start the rescue?
I bought my first skunk, Daisy, in 2000, and she got very sick that December. When I started the rescue, I started going to a place where the skunks weren't in good condition. We started doing more rescues, then adoptions and educational programs, and everything fell into place until we were internationally known and helping people throughout the world. It's a worldwide skunk organization. People don't just have skunks in the United States—we've had people come to Skunk Fest from the Netherlands, from the UK that flew over just for Skunk Fest.
What part of Skunk Fest do you most look forward to?
I look forward to meeting everybody that you talk to online—putting a face to a name and getting closer to them. When you talk to people on the Internet or over the phone, it's just a voice—but at Skunk Fest, you take that voice and connect it with a face, and it's an awesome bonding moment to meet someone that you've talked to many times and give a big ol' hug.