DEAR JOAN: We have had a visitor on and off the last couple of weeks. Mostly after dark but even at noon one day. The questions my wife and I have are: Does the fox pose any danger to our outside cats? Will he help control the growing ground squirrel population? Is the fox interested in helping keeping down the gopher numbers?

Richard F.

Livermore

DEAR RICHARD: Most foxes won't mess with grown cats, but there always is the exception, and they can be a danger to kittens. The best way to keep everyone safe is to keep the cats in the house, and use caution when you encounter the fox.

A gray fox can co-exist with humans and most pets, but some caution is required.Courtesy of Richard Finn
A gray fox can co-exist with humans and most pets, but some caution is required. Courtesy of Richard Finn ( Richard Finn )

Foxes eat a variety of foods, and gophers, rats and squirrels are high on the list. That's good news for you, bad news for the gophers, rats and squirrels.

DEAR JOAN: As we drove up Crow Canyon Road on Jan. 22, we counted five skunks hit by cars in a very short stretch, perhaps within about a mile. What compelled the poor creatures to leave the woods and pastures to come out on the road? Is it the weather? The time of year? Just bad luck? Malicious drivers who target animals? Any thoughts?

Marilyn W.

Castro Valley


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DEAR MARILYN: Yours is not the only letter I've received in the past week asking about dead skunk sightings. The cold hard truth is that mating season has arrived and male skunks in search of love aren't very good at noticing things like cars. Skunks usually start mating in early February, but because they don't have calendars, they rely on the weather and instinct.

Male skunks can travel up to five miles a night in search of not just one but several female skunks for a love connection. In a couple of months, we should start seeing the fruit of the successful unions, although it will be a while before the babies start wandering.

This is a good time to think about checking your yards and decks to make sure none of the pregnant females decide to take up residence there to deliver their litters. Just because you smell a skunk doesn't mean you've got one. But it's always good to keep an eye out. This is one time you don't want to be surprised.

Guess this is also a good time to publish Gary Bogue's recommended and approved de-skunking formula. Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon liquid soap. Mix together and wash the sprayed animal, keeping the mixture out of eyes, nose and mouth. Rinse with tap water.

Double the recipe for a medium-sized dog and triple for a large one.

DEAR JOAN: So far we have trapped four skunks in a very short period of time. They have been picked up by Joe of Vector Control. A student of mine is a microbiologist and has worked for two county health departments. She says 90 percent of the skunks they tested were rabid, which is pretty scary. She added that skunks carry rabies for a long time -- much longer than either bats or dogs -- and their young get it from them. Something to think about, so be sure your pets don't encounter one.

Judie H.

Moraga

DEAR JUDIE: The danger of rabies is why skunks are one of the animals vector control will assist with, supplying traps and taking the skunks away for euthanasia.

It's also a good reason for keeping a close eye on our pets when they are outside.

If you have a skunk in your yard that you are troubled about, contact your county's Mosquito and Vector Control office to talk about options.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.