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'Something stinks' in Valencia

County no longer hauls away pests

Posted: July 30, 2009 10:24 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Ronald Southwood, 79, unloads a skunk trap from his truck in his Valencia home. Southwood stops skunks from eating from his fruit and vegetable garden with the trap.


For Ronald Southwood, the local animal shelter's refusal to remove skunks from his Valencia property doesn't pass the smell test.

"Something stinks here, believe me," he said.

For years, striped polecats have snuck into Southwood's yard to feast on fruit fallen from his trees.

And for years, Southwood has trapped the skunks and called Castaic Animal Shelter, which picked them up.

This year, when Southwood called the animal shelter after trapping one of the pests, he got skunked.

"They said they are not allowed to pick up the skunks anymore," he said.

Southwood, 79, smelled corruption. "I bet there's a private company that convinced them to stop picking up animals so the business can make money," he said.

But county officials said the shelter is not in cahoots with any private skunk haulers.

The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, which operates the shelter, adopted a policy against removing small native animals such as skunks, raccoons, opossums and squirrels, said department Director Michelle Roche.

The county adopted the policy more than a month ago, Roche said.

"When you remove a wild animal from a space, it creates a void for another animal to fill," she said. "The animals will fill the void until the owner removes the food source."

In Southwood's case, the food source is his collection of fruit trees lining the back of his property. Southwood's backyard buffet includes a lemon tree, a pear tree and tomatoes.

Southwood, who planted the fruit trees and vegetables, eats very little of the produce. He usually gives it away.

His generosity isn't lost on the skunks.

The critters' taste for lemons, tomatoes and pears doesn't mean Southwood has to take a hatchet to his garden, said Karen Stepp, manager of Castaic Animal Shelter.

He can solve the problem easily, she said.

"Pick up the fruit. Don't let the fruit sit on the ground for animals to eat," she advised.

Relocating nuisance animals such as skunks just transports the problem to another neighborhood, Stepp said. "It isn't right to dump the problem on someone else."

Since locations where animals can be released are dwindling, the Department of Animal Care and Control is forced to euthanize them.

"That's not good for us to kill a healthy animal," Stepp said. "This new policy has the animals and the ecosystem in mind."


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