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Quick-witted teenager saves 2 skunks with their heads stuck in fast food cups

Quick-witted teenager saves 2 skunks with their heads stuck in fast food cups

Most people run away at the sight of a skunk, but not Sophie Wilson.

Over the past week, she not only ran towards the black and white striped mammals, she braved the risk of scratches and sprays to help save two.

“I’ve always loved animals, so when I see one that’s injured … I just feel like I have to do something,” said the 16-year-old.

The teenager took part in her first skunk rescue one evening last week at Norton Park in Burlington, Ont.

She was hanging out with her friends near the playground when they saw a skunk snooping through some trash. He came out with his head stuck in a cup of fast food, and Wilson said she was in action.

“I just knew I had to do something,” she said, adding that the animal couldn’t see or walk well. She managed to remove the bottom of the cup – luckily, without being sprayed – but the lid was stuck tightly around the skunk’s head and neck.

The skunk fled into some bushes and Wilson said she searched for about an hour, but couldn’t find it.

Devastated, she returned home and spoke to her parents, who agreed to help her track down the skunk at the earliest opportunity.

The next night, armed with a fishing net and a towel – his father’s idea – they returned to the park. They found the skunk still stuck in the lid and freed it, using the net to prevent it from escaping in the process. Fortunately, again, the skunk did not spray.

There were tense moments during the first rescue where the skunk lifted its tail and appeared ready to spray. (Sophie Maxwell Wilson / YouTube)

It was all part of a day’s work for a teenager who also happens to be a budding vet.

“She has wanted to be a vet for many years and she fundamentally loves animals and always wants to help and save them,” Wilson’s father Scott said.

He said the teenager was attending a special high school program this fall to help prepare her for a career in animal care.

“I feel like it was a good practical experience for her to be able to help.”

2nd skunk rescued a few days later

The rescues didn’t stop there.

A few days later, Wilson was with friends near a Shoppers Drug Mart when she found another skunk that was stuck in a mug with a similar cover.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Scott said.

Video taken by Wilson’s friends shows her removing the cup, then raising her arms in celebration as she runs away.

This time the rescue came with a compromise. “I smelled really bad and hated it, but as long as I took the stuff off I didn’t mind,” Wilson said.

Stinky from the side, Scott said he believes the two rescues show the importance for people of properly disposing of their waste.

“It’s a really dangerous thing, I think, not only for skunks but for all animals that try to feed themselves by putting their heads in people’s litter.”

Always wear gloves, says expert

Chantal Theijn has seen many of these cups and lids through her work at the Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge in Jarvis, Ontario.

She estimates that she releases at least two dozen skunks and squirrels each year, if not more.

They can cause “serious damage,” she said and, in some cases, be fatal.

“It keeps them from eating and drinking, but also, if the animal is younger and then grows up, we’ve seen a lot of them that have actually turned into flesh,” she said.

The animals put their heads in the cups, following the smell of the food, and when they try to pull back, the cover comes with them and they have no way of removing it, Theijn said.

The shelter is part of an effort to make all fast food packaging quickly biodegradable, she added.

Sophie Wilson shows off the type of cup and lid that trapped the second skunk she rescued. (Sophie Maxwell Wilson / YouTube)

Laurel Beechy, the self-proclaimed “Skunk Lady” behind Skunks paradise, a rescue team in Tillsonburg, Ont., said it’s important to know animals can’t see well beyond three feet.

If someone sees a struggling skunk, they should stop and walk slowly towards it while speaking calmly and quietly, she said.

Skunks spray when scared, she said. So when a person really approaches, they should move in “ultra slow motion”, gently grab the pot or cup and let the animal stick its head out.

Theijn also had some tips for the next rescue.

Skunks can carry rabies, so anyone who handles them should always wear gloves, according to the animal trainer.

The type of cover Wilson pulled off the animals can also cause a lot of damage, so in the future it would be best to capture them and then contact the SPCA or a wildlife refuge.

Trained staff can put skunks under anesthesia, remove eyelids with less stress, and then assess or stitch up wounds.

That said, Theijn said it didn’t appear that the animals Wilson helped were harmed.

When it comes to the risk of getting sprayed, even baby skunks have the ability to unload on you, Theijn said, but getting caught by friendly fire has its perks.

“It’s great shopping after being sprayed by a skunk,” she joked. “Social distancing is not a problem.”

Overall, she complimented Wilson.

“It’s excellent,” she added. “I’m sure a lot of people have looked at this skunk and haven’t done anything, so I absolutely recommend it to someone to help.”

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