A bill to allow Tennesseans to keep skunks as pets has won initial approval in committees of both the House and Senate with the sponsors contending it will provide a moneymaking opportunity for breeders of domesticated and de-scented animals.
The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill (SB1821) in less than two minutes on a 7-1 vote without discussion beyond a brief explanation by Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, the Senate sponsor, who said 17 other states already allow skunks to be kept as domestic pets and sold, including the border states of Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia. It’s scheduled for a Senate floor vote this week.
The discussion was somewhat more lively in the House Agriculture Subcommittee, where the companion bill was approved on voice vote with Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Boliver, asking to be recorded as voting no after questioning sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, at some length.
Faison said the bill was requested by constituents and, when initially approached, “I thought it was a joke.” But on looking into the matter, Faison said that skunks can be sold as pets for up to $1,000 each and there could be “tons of revenue” for those eager to engage in skunk marketing.
There is an American Domestic Skunk Association, which says on its website that the organization is dedicated to finding homes “for adult skunks in need and also has baby skunks for sale in the spring of each year.” The baby skunks must be picked up at the association’s home office in Florida, says the website, which does not list prices.
The bill repeals a current state law that prohibits private possession of skunks and instead puts them in a category of animals that can be owned through a permitting process regulated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The upshot is that “domesticated” skunks from other states – but not any native Tennessee skunks captured in the wild – can be possessed and sold subject to TWRA oversight, Faison and Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ron Loller, R-Bartlett, told Shaw in response to his questions.
Faison said that domesticated skunks always have their scent glands removed at an early age. Shaw said that deprived the animals of their natural means of defense and asked, “Doesn’t that get into animal abuse?”
That would especially be true, he suggested, if domesticated skunks escaped or were released back into the wild by their owners.
Faison said that a separate state law already prohibits release of domesticated animals into the wild, so that is not a valid concern.
In an interview with Nashville’s WSMV-TV, Faison indicated he expected joking criticism of a “stinky bill.”
That did not materialize in the initial committee appearances, though Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, accused Faison of reneging on a promise to bring a skunk to the subcommittee session. Holt’s remark brought a quick response from subcommittee Chairman Loller on Faison’s previous skunk appearance commitment:
“That was before the chairman found out about it (the promise) and had a fit,” Loller said.
Holt did not pursue the lack of a promised skunk appearance further, but did pose this question, to which Faison offered no reply:
“Is it safe to say that skunks taste like chicken?”