Sat 9//8 @ 10AM-4PM
Growing up, Deborah Cipriani’s peers loved to watch Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck; however, as a young girl she found herself gravitating to the Looney Tunes character Pepé Le Pew.
“My parents gave me a three-foot Knickerbocker stuffed-animal skunk when I was a kid,” North Ridgeville resident Cipriani said. “Then in the ’80s, I went camping in Colorado and I heard pitter patter outside of the tent. I thought it was a bunch of mice, but instead there were skunks. So I sat out on the picnic table and I talked to them.”
Considering this lifelong passion and love affair, it comes as no surprise to learn decades later she created her own festival celebrating the often-maligned mammals. The 17th annual Skunkfest takes place September 8 at North Ridgeville’s South Central Park.
This friendly gathering for skunk lovers and skunk owners draws folks from all over the country. There will also be plenty of de-scented skunks of different colors and kinds either carried, on a leash or in a carrier.
“I started Skunkfest in in my backyard many years ago as a picnic,” Cipriani said. “Then the public wanted to check it out, so we slowly grew and moved to the park. Now it’s a gathering for anybody who loves skunks, wants to know about skunks and is curious about skunks.
“We have a competition for pet skunks with judges coming from all over. We have fun skunk awards such as best dressed, best costume and most talented. There’s also a skunk run.”
With an annual attendance of more than 1,000 visitors, including people who travel from Europe and all over the United States, Skunkfest is actually a fundraiser, which Cipriani said is how the event started around the turn of the century. Her first skunk was sick and veterinarians didn’t know much about the animals.
“So I started doing skunk rescue and a skunk sanctuary,” Cipriani said. “We paid Dr. Frank Krupka at Avon Lake Animal Clinic to do collective studies. Today, we’ve been written up in vet manuals.”
Pet comparison-wise, Cipriani said a skunk is similar to owning a big ferret. Each one has its own personality, with some skunks being successfully trained to use the litter box.
“You have to change your whole life,” Cipriani said. “It’s not like a normal pet, and they’re not a hearty animal like cats and dogs. You have to pay attention to what you’re feeding them or else they’ll have health issues. So it’s not a pet for everybody.”
Invariably, Cipriani is hoping to change the skunk’s image one festival at a time.
“Skunks are the most fearful animal in the animal kingdom,” Cipriani said. “Mostly everybody goes running to bears and lions to take pictures. If they see a skunk, they run in the opposite direction.
“So I believe the skunk is underrated because people think they smell, but they’re beautiful animals and good for the environment too.”
Speaking of smell, over the years Cipriani said “Skunkfest has never been a stinky affair.
“We’ve been smell free,” Cipriani laughed.
[Written by John Benson]