Here’s why you might not want to snuggle the albino skunk you’ve seen around town
Bobby Klene introduces Nebula, his albino skunk. “She’ll just sit with you and cuddle,” he said. Indianapolis Star
Nebula, an albino skunk, sits on the shoulder of its owner, Bobby Klene, near City Market in Indianapolis, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. “I’ve had her since she was six-weeks old,” said Klene. “There will be people that run away when they find out what she is.” (Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar) Buy Photo
Nebula straddles Bob Klene’s left shoulder as they walk outside Indianapolis City Market, her nails clinging to his shirt. She’s not balancing quite a nimbly as, say, a pirate’s parrot, but her fluffy cream-colored tail provides enough of an anchor for stability.
It’s lunchtime at the market, and a Wednesday, so the Original Farmers’s Market is bustling.
And as Klene and Nebula pass by, every head turns at least once.
“Whoa!” said a passerby.
“What is that?!” another exclaimed.
It’s because Nebula, the 7-pound, 17-month-old albino skunk doesn’t look like a skunk. That’s partially because she’s not black and white, and partially because, well, when was the last time you saw a pet skunk? Most people assume she’s a ferret, a cat, or even a monkey, Klene said.
“People aren’t immediately afraid,” Klene said. “Some people will say, ‘Oh she’s so cute, and then I tell them what she is and they’ll jerk their hand back like they’re terrified,'” Klene said. “And it’s like, well she was just cute a second ago. What happened?”
There’s no reason to be afraid, Klene explains, because Nebi — as Klene and his wife Ashley often call her — can’t spray that telltale skunk scent. Her scent glands were removed when she was young, so now, she’s a de-funked skunk.
Klene, who does IT for a collection agency, and Ashley live on the southeast side with their 1-year-old son Kaliki. The family takes Nebula with them whenever possible — the Downtown Canal, Broad Ripple, Mass Ave, Fountain Square. She’s been kicked out of the Circle Centre Mall.
“I take her to Lowe’s,” Klene said. “There love her there.”
Klene first encountered baby skunks in a pet store in Florida about 15 years ago.
“Like everybody else, I was like, ‘Why would someone want a pet skunk?'” Klene said. “So I started doing some research and I found that they make really cool pets.”
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The Klenes bought Nebula for $450 when she was 6 weeks old from a breeder in Ohio. She’s litter-trained, and has her own pen in the in family’s garage. She plays like a cat or a dog would, but she’s afraid of the Klene’s other pet — a cat.
When strangers come up to Klene and ask about Nebula, he’ll ask if they want to hold her. Some decline, but most accept without hesitation. Klene will pass her gently to the stranger, and instruct them how to hold her: “Just hug her.”
And she hugs back. She’ll nuzzle her nose in the person’s neck or tuck it into her own body. She’s a little skittish, but more social than most of her breed, Klene said.
“Most skunks only like their owner, but she likes everyone,” he said. “She’ll just sit with you and cuddle.”
The Klenes post photos of Nebi with the snuggler of the moment on the Instagram account, @nebulanebi.
But Beth Breitweiser, owner of All Wild Things Exotic Animal Hospital, 6058 N. Keystone Ave., cautioned against holding a skunk.
“I don’t usually recommend people do that for the protection of their pet,” she said. “If it were to bite anybody, the skunk would lose its life.”
And skunks do bite, she said, because they’re naturally nearsighted and skittish about sudden movements — say, for example, by a dog or an excited child.
Breitweiser, an exotic animal care veterinarian with more than 25 years experience, said skunks are not domesticated animals. Breitweiser said she sees several skunks in her practice, but the trend has decreased.
“They can change on a dime,” Breitweiser said. “That’s the different between a wild animal and a domestic animal.”
Instinctively, skunks are solitary animals, she said.
“The big thing with skunks and raccoons that happens is that they’re very very social when they’re little,” she said. “It’s that second to third year when they want to leave their human homes, and find their mate. Even if you neuter them they’re still not going to lose that instinct. Those solitary animals are harder to make pets.”
Nebula, though, has helped Klene become more social.
“I’m very shy,” he said. “It gives me something to talk about, something that I already know about.”
Klene feeds Nebula dog food, but she’s not picky, he said, and she could instinctively overeat if given the chance. Sitting outside City Market while her family ate lunch, she munched on a piece of chicken tender and a french fry.
“They’ll eat absolutely anything,” he said.
Elizabeth McGlone was headed back to work from a run at the YMCA at City Market during lunch when she spotted Nebula.
“Oh my goodness, what is this?”
Klene started to ask if she wanted to hold her, and before he could finish, she exclaimed, “Yes!”
“It’s much more pleasant than I thought!” she said. “She’s so sweet.”
City Market spokesman Joe Perin has come to know Nebula and her family, and said she’s a welcome addition to the market.
“You never know what you’re going to experience,” he said. “Sometimes you come to City Market and there’s an albino skunk hanging out.”
Call IndyStar reporter Amy Bartner at (317) 444-6752. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You could snuggle Nebula, but a local veterinarian explains why you might not want to.