My husband and I closed on a new home at the end of July, and we love it. We have an acre and a quarter of land. There are dense trees on three sides in the back, with a seasonal creek cutting through what we call “the back forty”.
The night we got the keys, we stood in the large, glass-walled sunroom looking out at all this, and saw a deer bedded down between the trees. Later on, a great-horned owl stopped by. The next night, a red fox zipped through the yard. And a week later, a white skunk trotted through, tail aloft.
We were thrilled, as you can imagine. “There’s so much wildlife!” we exclaimed. And we do like wildlife. I spend a lot of my time photographing wildlife.
The dog likes it too.
Last night I was out with my cousin for a late evening snack. She has been staying with us for a few days on her autumn vacation, and as we do when we visit, we had repaired to a restaurant to eat and talk and discuss our lives, problems, and goals. We left my husband to the Astros game and my son to his Xbox, and began driving toward a local deli. After an hour or so of conversation, I visited the ladies room and she began idly scrolling through Facebook. “Um, Travis posted on Facebook,” she said before trailing off with a wince.
Oh shit, I thought. My phone is dead. She turned hers to face me.
While I had been eating tomato bisque and discussing current events, the dog had engaged in a little light diplomacy with a yard intruder near the lettuce patch; specifically, the skunk.
We abandoned ship quickly and called Travis, who asked us to please bring home something “stronger than Rosemary-Mint Suave.” After careening into the parking lot of a pet store one minute before closing and prevailing upon the good will of the cashier, she directed us to a bottle of “Stinky Dog Shampoo.” From there, we screeched out of the parking lot toward home.
The path home involves a right turn about half a mile away from the house, and the smell hit us like a wall about two feet from the stoplight. “Oh my God,” we exclaimed in unison. This was half a mile from the house. Nature, in all its terrible efficacy, has created a creature capable of befouling such a huge territory that the remaining wildlife has made a tightly-enforced pact to avoid it. Thanks to this pact, skunks are the merrily-striped assholes of the natural world, trotting arrogantly across the landscape with utter impunity, tails aloft, just as a reminder of its power.
But that pact does not apply to domesticated dogs.
Before last night, I had only smelled skunk spray in a diluted fashion – along the road, and temporarily, as I drove through it. It’s an unpleasant odor that makes you wrinkle your nose, but it’s not overwhelming. It won’t ruin your day.
But when your lettuce patch is ground zero, and the smell T-bones you like a semi half a mile away, the stench becomes something altogether different. As I entered my home – my new, formerly fresh-smelling home – I realized that up close, skunk doesn’t smell so much as it simply burns. What there is of smell calls to mind a combination of highly concentrated perm solution mixed with rotten eggs and death. And this makes perfect sense; the chemicals in skunk spray, called thiols, are sulphur-based compounds present in perm solution and putrid flesh. This smell will literally curl your hair.
When I entered the house, Thomas didn’t greet me as usual, electing to remain on the floor looking dejected, traumatized, and wet. Because it was the first really cold night of the season, Travis couldn’t bathe him outside. My husband limped over to us, his spine twisted like a question mark from lifting a panicked and flailing 75-pound dog into our tub with only the help of a protesting teenager. Afterward, my son had locked himself in his basement bedroom.
All so the dog could mark off a bucket list item in his eleventh year.
This is an animal that was once so well-trained I was able to call him off a black bear on a remote trail in West Virginia; who had once left behind a snarling raccoon on my stern command; who spent a lot of time on our Montana property without any such incidents. But there comes a time in every old man’s life when his supply of shits to give about anything runs dangerously low. And that time, for Thomas, was last night.
For your future reference, I can tell you what worked: Stinky Dog shampoo was a winner, even though the second bath of the night almost caused lasting injuries to both arthritic dog and humans. Boiling vinegar for an hour or so removed most of the ambient stench in the house. Soaking his collar in a combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and detergent worked like a charm. (But don’t keep this around, because it can explode in a closed container.) For my bedroom, which the dog had tried to hide in and was too far away from the vinegar steam, a friend with previous Skunk-And-German Shepherd experience recommended a few drops of vanilla in a small bowl of warm water. This worked surprisingly well, given the mellow scent of vanilla.
Do not use tomato juice, because it won’t work and your bathroom will resemble the shower scene in Psycho.
As it turns out, skunks carry enough spray in their glands only for five or six shots. After that, it can take up to ten days for the little stink goblins to replenish their supply. I have no idea how many shots Thomas took. So it could be out there still, locked and loaded. And lurking. Meanwhile, our entire neighborhood probably hates us, the skunk-provoking newcomers.
But, hey; we love the wildlife!