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Skunk leaves lasting stink

HILLSBORO, N.D. - The Chad and Aimee Hanson family seem to be a generally upbeat bunch, but since Valentine's Day there have been times they've thought life stinks.

A. Hanson

HILLSBORO, N.D. - The Chad and Aimee Hanson family seem to be a generally upbeat bunch, but since Valentine's Day there have been times they've thought life stinks.

Or, to place the odor a little more specifically, they say their belongings and their insurance coverage stink.

Thanks to a rabid skunk, they've lost a puppy, Aimee's eldest son is getting rabies shots, and they had to flee the farmhouse they were renting to spend several nights in Fargo hotels.

They figure they've shoveled out $4,000 for hotel bills, clothes replacement, cleaning supplies, travel, meals, doctor and veterinarian bills, and other costs tied to the skunk-from-hell incident.

None of those costs, they say, have been covered by a renters' insurance policy that apparently pays for damages due to rioting, volcanic eruptions, and aircraft and spacecraft falling from the sky.


Aimee Hanson, who's had a policy with Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. for 21 years, says her family has not only gotten skunked by a critter, but also by her insurer.

"To have me covered for volcanic eruptions and not wildlife" in North Dakota doesn't make sense, she said.

"And why would they cover the skunk smell in the car, and not in the house?" she said, referring to a car policy she has with Nodak.

The family's troubles started the night of Feb. 14. Aimee and Chad were having dinner in Fargo when they got a call about 8 from Aimee's 20-year-old son, Dustin Cote.

Dustin told them the hot-water heater in the farmhouse they were renting a few miles south of Hillsboro had broken and was leaking water.

That problem was fixed by turning a water shut-off valve. An easy, temporary fix.

The couple returned to their rented home about 11 p.m. Dustin then got the job of taking their new puppy outside.

Dustin set the pup down on the garage floor and turned to grab his jacket. That's when a skunk came in a garage access door and attacked the family's other dog, a Chesapeake retriever, while spraying throughout the garage, Dustin said.


The pup ran and Dustin went to grab a rifle. Then the skunk attacked and killed the pup, Aimee Hanson said.

Dustin said he hit the skunk several times with the rifle butt to try to get it off the pup, then shot the skunk with a .22-caliber round.

In the attack, Dustin was cut on the hand and was exposed to the skunk's blood.

The skunk's spraying had sent the stench throughout the house and two cars in the garage, Aimee Hanson said.

There was no shut-off valve for the stink.

"The skunk odor was so strong it made your eyes water," Dustin said.

The family, which includes Kaci Cote, 16, and Devon Cote, 13, fled the house with what they had on their backs.

They later came back to haul away 20 sacks of clothes, Aimee said.


They took the clothes to a laundromat. Despite two washings, they had done little for their clothes, but had cleared out the laundromat, Chad said.

To add insult to injury, after their first night in the hotel, Dustin found his car with a flat tire. When he opened the trunk, he saw he also had a blown shock, Aimee said.

"People say everything happens in threes," she said. "We're at about 39 right now."

Testing at North Dakota State University showed that the skunk was rabid. Dustin is now getting anti-rabies shots.

Their Grand Forks, N.D.-based insurance agent, David Kent, said renters' policies typically cover perils such as wind, fire and theft. He said an all-risk homeowners' policy might cover damage from a skunk or a deer, but said he couldn't write a renter's policy with an endorsement to cover skunks.

"You can't insure for everything," he said.

Kent said he feels sorry for the Hansons, but "it's a peril that's not covered."

The Hansons' landlord, Michael Anderson, said this week that he's working with the family to remove the odor from the home. Anderson said he plans to remove plywood walls and insulation in the garage that took most of the skunk spray.

So far, Anderson isn't getting reimbursed by his insurance company, either, he said.

"The whole deal is very unfortunate and very inconvenient for everybody," Anderson said. "We're just working hard together to try and get everything cleaned up and get everything back to normal."

The family now lives on the top floor of a home in Hillsboro they recently bought. They're planning to renovate it before they move in.

Now they rip off plaster and lathe on the walls on the first floor, and sleep on air mattresses and sit on a single couch on the second floor.

This temporary fix isn't easy, but "it got us out of the hotel," Chad said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

A. Hanson

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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