A shy eight-year-old has stunned her family and friends by becoming best friends with a SKUNK.
But while the creature aggressively scratched every human it came into contact with, the smelly beast took an instant liking to Harriet.
Little Harriet scooped the animal into her arms while it was clawing her mum Maria, 30, and instantly calmed it down with gentle strokes.
The pair have been inseparable ever since and now play together, have water fights – with Humbug even standing guard over Harriet’s room.
The skunk patiently waits for Harriet to return from primary school before the pair go out for walks using a specially-adapted lead.
And despite a skunks’ smelly reputation, smitten Harriet even lets Humbug sleep in her bed.
Harriet has lavished such affection on the pet, her parents think Humbug now believes he is actually a CAT.
Maria and husband Ian, 34, say they have been touched by the marked difference in Harriet’s confidence since adopting Humbug.
Mum-of-two Maria said: “Before we got Humbug Harriet was a very nervous and anxious child. Since she had Humbug she has come out of herself. She has definitely become more confident.
“It has helped that she has had this animal and that she was the only one who could get near her for a time.
“Skunks can be friendly but it is unusual that he has just taken to this little girl. We had to keep Humbug in a little dog cage at the beginning.
But then Harriet just looked at him and he looked at her – and that was it.
“I would say it is most like he knows he is on to a good thing as a child won’t give him up as easily as an adult might. It is like he knows ‘if I get in with this kid then I’m sorted’.
Harriet, of Tonbridge, Kent, was just six-years-old when her parents, who run Amazing Animal Encounters, added Humbug to their menagerie.
At the time the youngster often suffered from anxiety in social situations, which meant she preferred playing alone rather than with her younger brother, or friends.
It meant her parents were stunned when she stepped in and calmed vicious Humbug down as he bit and scratched the adults’ ankles.
Bizarrely, the creature took an instant liking to Harriet and nuzzled into her – like a kitten.
Humbug works in Harriet’s parents petting zoo, which is toured around schools, but is free to roam the family house as soon as the youngster returns from school.
Harriet has a lead, which she uses for walking the mammal, and Humbug likes nothing better than sitting next to her on the sofa and watches television.
Bizarrely Harriet’s parents still rely on their daughter to help them control Humbug – because she is the only one he will listen to.
Harriet said: “His colours are my favourite thing about him. He is black and white.
“He was already called Humbug when we got him. He is my favourite animal here.
“I just like to be with him. He makes me happy.”
Humbug is one of 25 species of animals who travel around Kent schools with her parents’ business, which was set up in 2011.
The pet was bought from a licensed skunk dealer, who took him in from a pub landlord.
Skunks image as foul-smelling creatures comes from a spray they discharge from their rears as a deterrent to any attackers.
The smell is powerful that it can be noticed a mile away, and requires chemical treatment to remove from clothing – although it is rumoured tomato ketchup also nulifies the odour.
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