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Dokken: Take it from a 'skunk whisperer,' talking to a skunk to calm it down works

The best trap he’s found is a live trap that consists of a 2-foot length of tube 6 inches in diameter with a mechanism inside that causes a steel door to spring closed when a skunk enters. The space is tight enough that the skunk can’t arch its back and lift its tail to spray.

070321BRADDOKKEN-Dana Klos
Dana Klos (left), Thief River Falls, shows a student how to set a conibear trap in May 2014 during a youth trapping class. Klos, who runs a "critter removal" service, says talking to skunks to calm them down is effective when removing problem animals. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
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THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. -- He’s been called a “skunk whisperer” for his ability to remove problem skunks without getting sprayed, but Dana Klos says it boils down to dealing with the animals the same way he’d respond to a child having a tantrum.

“They’re just like kids,” Klos, 68, of Thief River Falls, said. “You’ve got to talk to them and calm them down.”

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A longtime trapper and trapping instructor, Klos runs a “critter removal service,” as he calls it, in Thief River Falls and the surrounding northern Minnesota area. He called me Tuesday morning to share some skunk tales after reading my column about the mother skunk and five babies I watched crawl under our bunkhouse porch in northwest Minnesota.

I’m happy to report the skunks appear to have moved on, and neither a live trap, the neighbor’s dog nor a trail camera have picked up so much as a whiff of their presence in the past week. Confident they no longer were there, I placed bags with rags soaked in ammonia under the porch and sealed off the openings around the bottom to hopefully keep skunks or other critters from entering.

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Based on information I found on the internet, skunks associate the smell of ammonia with predators; we’ll see.

In the meantime, though, Klos’ skunk stories are worth sharing for anyone who encounters the critters in places they shouldn’t be, such as under bunkhouse porches or in garages where doors are left open.

Klos says he once got a call from a homeowner who’d placed a live trap to catch a rabbit that I’m assuming was munching on flowers or garden plants.

The homeowner put the trap in his garage while going away for a few hours and returned to find a skunk had gotten under the garage door, which wasn’t closed all the way, and now was in the trap, Klos recalls.

“He said, ‘Can you help me?’ I said, ‘Keep nice and quiet, I’ll come over, and I’ll go talk to it,’ ” Klos said. “He said, ‘You’re going to talk to the skunk?’”

Odd as it may sound, talking to a skunk to calm it down is the best way, Klos says.

“You have to,” he said. “You’ve got a common goal, just like a kid or whatever. They’re excited, they want to get out of there, so you have to talk to them.”

The homeowner asked if the skunk would spray, and Klos replied it was “a 50/50 deal.”

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“I went over there, and sure enough, the skunk is in one of those Havahart (live) traps you get” at the hardware store, Klos said.

He placed a tarp over the trap and went outside for a cup of coffee. Eventually, he was able to carefully place the trap and skunk in the back of his truck and keep it covered to a place where he could, as they say, “take care of it.”

But only after talking to it first. The homeowner, who wasn’t there for the successful capture and removal, called Klos later, very pleased to find the skunk hadn’t sprayed.

“I said, ‘No, he was a very quiet individual when I talked to him,’” Klos said.

The homeowner asked about the conversation, and Klos said he talked about church, things going on in the community and the local Legion baseball team.

The homeowner might have been skeptical, but he certainly was impressed.

“He said, ‘You’re unbelievable – you’re a skunk whisperer,’ ” Klos said. “I said, ‘No, I just got lucky.’ ”

He laughs at the memory.

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“You’ve got to calm them down,” he said. “And the biggest thing is putting a tarp over them and just giving it time so they get comfortable.

“Middle of the day is the worst time, so I like to do everything in the dark. That’s why 3:30 in the morning is my favorite time.”

The best trap he’s found, Klos says, is a live trap that consists of a 2-foot length of tube 6 inches in diameter with a mechanism inside that causes a steel door to spring closed when a skunk enters. The space is tight enough that the skunk can’t arch its back and lift its tail to spray. Minnesota Trapline Products of Pennock, Minn., offers two different versions of its spray-proof skunk trap, one that retails for $59.95 and another that retails for $69.95 .

Two years ago, Klos says, he caught 41 skunks in Thief River Falls, and “not a single one” of them sprayed.

“I own five or six of them now,” Klos said of the spray-proof traps. “It’s a fabulous deal.”

Typically, Klos says he baits the traps with sardines because they’re such an attractant. Unfortunately, the bait also is effective at catching cats, Klos says.

“I’ll get down on my hands and knees with a flashlight to look,” he said. “And I can tell the difference between a purring cat and an (angry) skunk.

“Believe me, I know the difference.”

Cats, of course, can easily be released. As for the skunks … I’ll leave that to imagination.

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Brad Dokken column sig.jpg
Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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