HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
January 29, 2007, Herald Journal

An accidental tourist


One day, she was taking a nap near her home in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. (near Los Angeles). The next thing she knew, she was 2,200 miles away in Canada with no ride home.

Her story has piqued the interest of observers in two countries.

Cases like this, while not common, do happen occasionally.

The staff at the Toronto Wildlife Center has been caring for the wayfarer since she arrived in the country on Jan. 5. Director Nathalie Karvonen said that airlines usually agree to return such accidental travelers at no charge, but in this case, none of the airlines volunteered to provide transport.

This is clearly a case of discrimination based on the fact that she is black and white and happens to be a skunk.

It is believed that her ordeal started when she stopped for a nap in a PVC pipe that was part of a load that was being stored in California.

Later, the pipes and the skunk were loaded into a truck, and she was off on a seven-day journey to Mississauga, Ontario, just west of Toronto.

The amenities in a freight truck are definitely not first class, and she survived the journey without food or water.

Despite her hunger, she was frightened by the experience, and it took two days for some brave workers to lure her out of the safety of the pipe and into a cage baited with cat food.

That was only the beginning of her troubles.

The plight of the innocent traveler has caused a big stink on both sides of the border.

It would be illegal to release the vagabond in Canada because she could spread diseases to Canadian skunks.

She would also have to fight her larger Canadian cousins for survival, because skunks are very territorial, and no one wants a skunk fight on their hands.

Volunteers have offered to help repatriate the skunk, but they have encountered challenges.

Customs officials in the post-911 world are notoriously fussy about paperwork being in order, and are not keen to let someone back into the country if there is no record of her having left the country in the first place.

Air and land commercial carriers have refused to transport the skunk unless her scent glands are removed.

But, if this is done, she would not be able to defend herself in the wild once she is back at home.

Fortunately, it appears that this story will have a happy ending.

In Canada, the National Post started a contest asking people to help name the skunk.

This, and other publicity efforts, have helped to raise awareness of the skunk’s plight.

It has been reported that a radio host and producer from California heard about the stranded traveler, and have agreed to take a week off work to pick her up and bring her home.

The transfer is expected to take place at the border crossing in either Buffalo or Detroit.

The skunk is not out of the woods, yet, though.

Paperwork for the US Fish and Wildlife Service will need to be completed.

Anyone transporting the skunk will need to declare her at the border, and will need permits and paperwork for each state the animal passes through.

There may be some interesting days yet to come.

The stranded traveler has not sprayed any of her helpers, but she is still a wild animal, and experts admit that there is some element of risk to her benefactors.

Traveling can be stressful for anyone, and this young excursionist has been through a lot already.

It could be a long, long ride home for both the skunk and her volunteer chauffeurs.

A skunk’s defensive spray can be a bit offensive, and has an effective range of about 10 feet. A week-long, 2,200-mile journey in a confined space in that sort of aromatic haze could test the stamina of the most dedicated rescuer.

Whatever happens, this case proves that there are still people who will go out of the way to help their neighbors (even if publicity is a potential ulterior motive).

It also proves that international cooperation is possible, and that common sense can prevail.

And, there is no doubt that everyone involved will have some stories to tell when it is all over.