A North Vancouver woman is distressed that a neighbourhood skunk has become caught in a plastic cup lid, and a wildlife rescue worker says she's right to be worried about the animal's welfare.
Catherine Leighton has lived peacefully with a family of skunks near her Pemberton Heights residence for six years.
The matriarch of the skunks, who the Pemberton Heights resident dubbed "Coco," has babies every spring under Leighton's garden shed. Although Leighton was initially alarmed when the malodorous guests moved in, she decided to live and let live.
"I just decided, well, they have to have a place to live," said Leighton. "I thought, okay, let's see if we can coexist."
So she was shocked when a neighbour showed her a photo, taken on July 16, of one of the skunks with a domed plastic cup lid from MacDonald's stuck around the animal's neck. A couple of evenings later, Leighton saw the skunk's predicament for herself.
"That night when she came out, she was trying to drag her neck (against the ground)," said Leighton. "You could see she was trying to get it off."
Leighton hoped the cup lid might simply crack and fall off in time, but that hasn't happened yet.
Linda Bakker, who works with animals at Wildlife Rescue Association in Burnaby, sees skunks who have become trapped in plastic cup lids about once a year. The lids, which are the type that top bubble tea or iced coffee drinks, are made of rigid plastic and they just don't come off on their own.
"The design of these cups are just not very considerate," said Bakker. "It's really sharp."
Bakker said that skunks should be brought in for medical treatment if they get caught in the lids, since the lids can cause cuts and infection. But because Bakker's organization and other animal welfare groups are nonprofits with limited resources, they depend on members of the public to bring animals in to their shelters. That's Leighton's problem.
"Everyone keeps saying to me, I have to trap it. And I'm going, that's all very well, but if I trap it, of course it'll spray."
Drina Read can sympathize with Leighton's plight. In November 2011, Read organized her neighbours in Vancouver's West End to track and catch a skunk, nicknamed Bubbles, who had been wearing a cup lid for months.
"Of course we were all scared," said Read. "Who wouldn't be?"
Read used a live trap and followed advice from wildlife rescue organizations to nab the skunk.
"What they said was to take a container of some kind-skunks have very poor vision, and if you can get close enough, and you put the container over them, if they can't see you, then they don't spray," explained Read.
Read and her neighbours successfully captured the skunk and brought it to the Wildlife Rescue Association- without being sprayed. The animal needed a lot of medical care, said Bakker.
"The cup was removed but there were big lacerations in the neck and lots of debris," said Bakker.
Here in North Vancouver, an intrepid RCMP officer has freed two skunks from the lids. The most recent rescue happened in August 2011, when Cpl. Sue Tupper helped a baby skunk who had gotten itself stuck and was wandering through traffic in the Lower Lynn area. The officer captured the skunk from behind and was not sprayed.
Bakker said it's frustrating to see animals becoming trapped and hurt by the disposable plastic product.
"It can be very frustrating when you see that happening just because people throw it on the street . . . Whenever I see one on the street, I pick it up and try to cut it open."