When Stacey Credle noticed holes in the dirt near the front porch of her house in Gainesville, she thought a rabbit had made them. Then she thought it might have been a mole.
For about a month in the spring, Credle and her husband, Cliff, bought dirt to fill the holes. The elusive animal made new ones. Although the family includes two small children and two small dogs, the critter was undeterred. Early one morning, her husband saw something dart into the ground. At first he thought it was a black cat. Then he realized it was a skunk.
“After that, I smelled it every day,” Credle said.
When she realized the animal she affectionately refers to as “Le Pew” (after the cartoon character Pepe Le Pew) had moved in, Credle called Prince William County Animal Control and several wildlife trappers. But the county doesn’t handle nuisance wildlife unless it’s inside a home, and hiring a private company is expensive. So she began to research do-it-yourself pest removal.
They bought commercial critter repellant and fox urine, which costs about $20 a bottle and smells “atrocious,” Credle said. They also consulted Burt of Ark Trapping, who recommended putting a plastic bag just inside the hole to confirm that the animal was still in residence.
“If the bag disappears, the animal is there. If it moves the bag more than three times, then it is established and unlikely to move on its own,” said Burt, who goes by his first name.
They waited for the skunk to leave the hole, poured fox urine into it and placed a plastic bag inside.
“Well, she didn’t go back to that hole. She made a new one,” Credle said. “So, we got more fox urine and tried to do it again. We did it three or four times. We spent way too much money on fox urine.” To no avail.
They gave Burt another call.
Ark Trapping covers all of Northern Virginia. Burt said he receives calls every day, mostly for skunks and copperheads but also for raccoons, opossum and coyotes.
“Everything’s a little out of whack,” he said. Because of the recent mild winters, the copperhead and coyote populations have exploded. Some animals are mating more than once a year.
When he arrived, Burt discovered that the Credles’ new neighbor was not alone. She had had babies — eight of them. He set up several traps outside the family’s front door and then waited.
“It was like the night before Christmas, when you can’t sleep,” Credle said.
It took Burt about two weeks to trap mother and babies and move them.
The Credles bear the skunks no ill will. They hired Ark Trapping because they liked Burt’s philosophy of doing what’s right for the animal. A trapper for 38 years, he thinks that animals deserve to be trapped humanely, and he makes an effort to determine whether an animal is lactating, so babies aren’t left behind.
Aside from the lingering smell, Credle said the Le Pews “provided me with quite a bit of entertainment. We respected them. They respected us. They never sprayed, but if I ever see another baby skunk, it will be too soon.”
The Credles plan to seal the hole with concrete.