BAY CITY — She owns two parrots and a cat, but 16-year-old Keili Woodruff of Bay City has another pet that causes people to do double takes: a baby skunk.
His name is King Leon, in homage to the alternative rock band Kings of Leon. He’s a 5-month-old, black furball with white stripes.
Keili says she enjoys taking him to local festivals, pushing him around in a stroller. Most recently, she paid a visit with him to the Bay County Fair.
“It’s fun to see people’s reactions,” the Bay City Western High School junior said. “People do double takes all the time.”
In order to own the skunk, she had to go through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to get the proper permit to keep a wild animal in captivity. The permit cost $100 and took about three months to obtain. Keili has to renew the permit every three years.
After she received the permit, the DNR gave her a list of skunk breeders in Michigan and, in June, she contacted a breeder in Lapeer. King Leon cost $200 and came with his scent gland removed so he can’t spray people.
King Leon eats almost anything, Keili said, with a few exceptions. He can’t eat onions, raisins, grapes, asparagus, cat food or any processed meat, she said. And he doesn’t like tomatoes or carrots.
Mostly, he eats chicken, yogurt, cottage cheese, corn on the cob, cereal, high protein dog food and several other types of food.
“When he was little, (Keili) had to wake up every few hours to feed him. She was like a mom with a newborn baby,” said Emily Werth, Keili’s dad’s girlfriend.
King Leon is like having a cat and a dog rolled into one, Keili said.
“He uses a litter box to go to the bathroom and he likes to go outside to play,” she said.
One of Keili’s parrots calls King Leon by his name and the skunk tries to play with the cat by pouncing at it.
King Leon likes to play and requires a lot of attention, Keili said. She has a skunk puppet that she puts on her hand and wrestles him with. He also goes in Keili’s purse and pulls out items to play with.
“I would never get another one until I’m retired and am home all the time because you have to give them nonstop attention,” Keili said.
When King Leon is left home alone, he likes to hide all of his toys and other items under Keili’s dad’s bed.
“It’s like his little cave,” Werth said.
Because skunks are nocturnal animals, Keili had to train King Leon to be on the same sleep schedule as her. It took about two months, Keili said.
“He’s really good now, he sleeps all night,” Keili said, adding that he sleeps in bed with her.
King Leon still requires two naps a day that last between one and two hours, Keili said, adding he likes to cuddle when he gets tired.
“He’s so loving and cute. He’s almost like a stuffed animal,” Werth said.
King Leon isn’t Keili’s first pet skunk. She had a female skunk named Butters and, after having her for six months, she took Butters to the vet to get spayed.
Keili didn’t know it at the time, but skunks can rip out the staples from the surgery and that’s what happened to Butters. She died shortly after the surgery and the family has a tombstone in their backyard in Butters’ memory.
“It was the worst thing I could have been through,”Keili said.
The incident with Butters is why Keili decided to get a male skunk the second time around.
Keili said it was hard to lose Butters because skunks are similar to having kids and require a lot of time and attention.
But like owning a dog, King Leon answers to his name, digs in the yard, goes for walks on a leash and can even learn how to do tricks, she said.
Keili said she can teach King Leon to shake, roll over and play dead, but she hasn’t tried yet because he’s really hyper. She’s taking him to the vet in a few weeks to get neutered and said he will calm down after that.
For now, she plays with her new pet at home and people around town are getting to know him. At the local Family Video, a pet-friendly store, she said workers adore him.
“They’re going to start carrying crackers there for him,” she said.