As It Happens

[UPDATED] Skunks with cups stuck on their heads: As It Happens investigates

It's not something you expect to happen very often, but in recent days two stories of first responders rescuing skunks with food containers on their heads have made the rounds on the news. As It Happens talks to skunk rescuers in Michigan and Ontario.
More common than you might think: Skunks getting their head caught in food containers (Source: Today Show, MSP, Justin Mausz )

[Updated August 17, 2016] Another skunk has been found with a cup stuck on its head. The animal's head became trapped in a McDonald's McFlurry cup and is lucky thanks to the assistance of two North Bay, Ont. police officers.

On August 8 at 2 a.m., Constable Sarah Kavanagh and Constable Jennifer Dix were on patrol when they spotted a skunk on the street with a cup on its head. For more on this latest incident go here.

Our original investigation continues below:

This week, CBC News reported an Ontario first responder who suited up in protective gear in order to try and help a skunk whose head was stuck in a cup. That's just a few days after Michigan State Police received praise for helping save a skunk whose head was stuck in a yogurt cup — using only a stick and their quick wits.

These incidents aren't the only cases of rescuing skunks stuck in empty food containers. A quick online search turned up a video out of Rochester, New York where a first responder used his bare hands to save a skunk from a plastic cup.

This got the producers of As It Happens wondering are "skunks in cups" a thing? And what is the best way to help a skunk without getting sprayed? 

As It Happens Guest host Rachel Giese spoke with Ontario paramedic Justin Mausz and a representative from the Michigan State Police, First Lieutenant Mike Shaw. Here is part of their conversation. 

Rachel Giese: Lieutenant Shaw, in your press release, you describe the skunk in question as a 'savage skunk.'  What did your officer see when they first got to the scene?

State Police in Michigan rescued this skunk with a yoghurt container stuck on it's head. They used only a stick and their quick reflexes. (Michigan State Police)

Lieutenant Mike Shaw: Well, for us it is kind of hard to figure out exactly what a 'savage skunk' was. I've
never really heard that terminology before. So when the troopers rolled up onto the scene, they basically smelled the skunk before they even saw it. And he was running around spraying pretty much everything you could possibly find because he had his head stuck inside a non-clear yogurt cup, so he couldn't see anything. Every time he ran into something he was spraying everything he possibly could.

RG: And so how were your officers then able to get the container off the skunk's head?

LMS: Well, the first thing that we did is call animal control because nobody wants to mess around with a
'savage skunk' — whatever that actually means. But when Animal Control told us that they don't handle those type of calls, both troopers decided that they weren't going to allow this skunk to run around with a cup on its head.

So they looked at each other as far as their seniority and who was older and who wasn't. Then the older, smarter trooper took a wooden rod and he kind of guided the skunk in a certain direction. Then the younger, faster trooper kind of snuck up from the front of the skunk there and yanked it off its head and they both ran as fast as they could.

RG: Did either one get sprayed?

LMS: They didn't. I think the skunk actually kind of looked at them, gave a little nod of appreciation, knowing that he'd just been rescued by the Michigan State Police, and then took off into the wood line. I think it was his way of saying thank you by not letting them have it before he left.

RG: Mr. Mausz, you also came across a skunk this past weekend in Ontario in a similar situation, except it was a plastic cup instead of a yogurt container. So how was your skunk acting when you saw it?

Justin Mausz: Agreeably disoriented, I think would be a good way to put it. The poor thing had a cup on its head and it was bouncing in to walls and parked cars. It was obvious that it had sprayed nearby because there was a fairly recognizable odour of skunk when we pulled in.

RG: But you approached this situation differently than the Michigan Police. So what did you do to address it?

JM: I think we lacked the foresight of Lieutenant Shaw's people, in that we didn't call animal
control and we didn't think to use a stick — that was probably a good option.

RG: So what did you do instead?

JM: Well, my partner and I decided we wanted to try and help this poor thing because it looked quite upset. So I don't
have a lot of experience with skunks and I'm particularly concerned about the 'spray threshold,' for lack
of a better word. So I thought if I could get close to it, I could take away the cup. But I wanted to make sure that I would protect my clothing and myself from getting sprayed — from at least having the odour around if I did get
sprayed. So I put on some of our personal protective equipment that we use when we encounter patients with
infectious communicable diseases.

A paramedic in Ontario suited up in a full PPE isolation suit usually reserved for protecting front line workers from infectious diseases, like Ebola. (Justin Mausz )

We have what we call 'enhanced protective equipment' that came out in response to the Ebola crisis. And essentially that's a fully encapsulating suit that covers all our exposed skin, that provides respiratory protection. So I put some of that on in the hopes that, if it could protect me from Ebola, it might protect me from a skunk.

RG: Given that you've heard the story coming out of Michigan, who do you think dealt with their skunk-with-something-stuck-on-its-head situation the best?

JM: I think we were both equally ingenuitive in overcoming an interesting and novel problem.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Justin Mausz and Mike Shaw.


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