YMCA Future Vets Camp Part Two – Vet Tech Mark Sopko on Respecting Wildlife

The Hillsborough YMCA offers week-long specialty camps throughout the summer, introducing the children to a variety of subjects. One such camp called Future Vets under the supervision of Laura Rodriguez, Associate Program Director, gave Dr. Martins, DVM and technician Mark Sopko, the opportunity to present on July 10, 2019. 

The presentation took place in two parts: In part one, Dr. Martins gave the children an overall summary of good pet care habits and answered questions.  Part two of the presentation was handled by Mark Sopko, who gave tips on how to respect wildlife with a real life visitor, Mr. Puff Puff the skunk.

Dr Martins at YMCA Future Vet Camp






Part Two – Vet Tech Mark Sopko on Respecting Wildlife

Mr. Puff Puff the skunk was introduced as Mark Sopko’s own animal that he takes along to presentations for wildlife educational purposes.  The children were cautioned not to try to touch him.

Dr Martins and Mark Sopko address YMCA Vets Comp

Naturally, people and other wildlife immediately fear a skunk is going to spray using their anal scent glands.  Mark explained that if they don’t put their tail up, they can’t spray you.  However, Mr. Puff Puff doesn’t have this ability any longer because his anal scent glands have been removed, so he’s incapable of spraying. In the wild, skunks don’t have a defense other than spraying using these glands, and they can get hurt easily by wolves and coyotes when they are mostly out at night.  Even owls can attack a skunk because owls have no sense of smell.  The only thing a skunk can do is spray and run away from their predator. It takes about 10 days to recharge their anal scent glands after a skunk has sprayed in order to be able to spray again.  Therefore, they don’t spray often because they are then defenseless during that 10-day recharging period. 

Mark instructed the children that if you see a skunk, or any wildlife for that matter, simply watch it from afar and try not to disturb it. Skunks eat a lot of bugs, and they like the bad ones like hornets, that sting.  Their nails are long, and they can go into the ground and dig a burrow to sleep in and dig bugs up out of ground to eat.  Skunks come in many colors – brown and white, all white, all black, or spotted. There can be many different patterns to their coats.

Mark Sopko with Skunk at YMCA Vets Camp

Mr. Puff Puff will walk on a leash sometimes, and Mark does let him run around and play under his supervision. Mr. Puff Puff is very calm, but Mark cautioned the children the next time you see a skunk in the wild, just stay back.  If a skunk in the wild sees you coming, they will stop, slowly back up and walk away. But if you keep coming toward the skunk, he will turn around and he’ll spray you.  So with any animal, respect that animal, and that means you are being nice to them and letting them alone without bothering them.

Never stare at a wild animal, invade their space. or try and touch them. They might bite you. Same as with other people’s pets.  Puff Puff is not from the wild, he came from a skunk breeder.  Mark explained he needs a license to have a skunk of his own in order to educate others to respect wildlife.

YMCA Vet Camp Children

Questions and Answers – Skunks do bite, so you never want to try to touch one.  Mark has had Mr. Puff Puff since he was a baby and he is friendly with Mark, but any animal with teeth will bite.  Always be careful.  For food, skunks like berries, fruit and bugs, but sometimes they get into garbage and find piece of hamburger.  Sometimes they get into  bees hives. 

So what do you do if you see a skunk in the back yard? You watch through a window! 

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