My favorite animal is the skunk, and it has been ever since I was a small child and (understandably) mistook what is among the most feared animals of the United States for a cute and cuddly kitty cat, to the horror of my father. The skunk is a greatly misunderstood animal, and it fits my own life and history and struggle in grimly ironic ways that I do not always appreciate. As I have lived I have realized that my choice of a favorite animal was not remotely a coincidence, but had a deep and painful personal resonance.
What kind of animal is a skunk? It is a small, odiferous creature with short legs and a fluffy tail whose presence excites fear in others, but though the skunk is a naturally intensely curious animal with poor eyesight (like mine) and a distinct lack of a homing instinct (also like me), skunks are not by nature fierce animals. The pressure of mating presents huge stresses on skunks, which are induced ovulators (a fact I did not discover until only a few years ago, and a particularly tragic irony, meaning that they have to be raped to reproduce; poor little things). They wilt in direct heat (with dehydration problems like my own) and also can’t see at night, so they are animals that prefer the twilight (as I prefer indirect light given my inability to see well either at night or in blinding sunlight).
And yet, despite being cuddly and cute animals whose cruel fate of being bred for fur (pet skunks are invariably fur farm rejects taken from their parents at very young ages; poor little things) should excite sympathy, people are not disposed to be friendly to the skunk. Adult skunks, even if they aren’t very big, have large claws and fangs, and then there are those scent glands. Furthermore, skunks aren’t to be trifled with even when they are “descented,” as they are known to be pretty vindictive if they are played with or treated roughly. On the other hand, they are immensely affectionate and loving if treated gently. This happens to be my own temperament and personality, for better or worse.
What is for me the most poignant aspect of the skunk for me personally is the tragic gulf between the essential sweetness of the skunk and the nearly universal fear and loathing that it produces among most people. Skunks are cuddly and affectionate animals who love cozy beds full of comfy blankets and clothes and have slightly fussy diets (again, like mine) , but there aren’t many people who want to get close to a skunk. And that makes me sad, because I see the same tragic irony in my own life that I see in the treatment of skunks.
People have often asked me why I don’t own a pet, and while there are a variety of reasons for that, none of them are really good enough. For far too long I have loved animals as I have loved people, from a distance. That’s going to have to chance, and so as soon as it is practicable, I will need to find something cuddly and lovable to show affection to, that I may in some way at least begin to show the love for other beings that I feel inside . For far too long my better sentiments have been deeply felt but seldom expressed. That has to stop while there is time to arrest the problem.
Only time will tell if I am eventually to find that intimacy and affection is easier for me to find than for my appropriately favorite animal . For the moment that doesn’t appear to be the case. My own deep and deeply personal reasons for struggling with affection and intimacy have been barriers for far too long to happiness, and it would be particularly ironic, in a happy way, if my affectionate love for an animal as unfairly reviled as the skunk might help me with my own similar problem. That would be sweet, at least.