Friday, June 30, 2017

A Strange, Sad Skunk Story

I'm pretty sure that most pet owners have a skunk story ... it sort of goes with the territory. 

This is Howard, a lab/boxer/shepherd mix. He is a very good dog. 

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Howard has had several run-ins with skunks over his almost four years. They have inevitably ended with him sprayed, rolling around in the backyard trying to get the spray off, and shivering miserably in the bathtub while Jeff washes him with Dawn dish soap (we learned pretty quickly that tomato juice was not the best thing for getting skunk odor off). 

I have cursed a lot of skunks.

Yesterday, though ...

I let Howard outside into the fenced-in backyard, just like I have a hundred times. He climbed down the porch stairs, started heading to the area way in the back where he does his business, then I suddenly saw him move very quickly with a small black and white animal in his mouth. I knew it was a skunk before I smelled its defensive spray.

I should mention that I've had a couple of major surgeries in the last few months, and that I am still recovering from numerous complications. I am not supposed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk; this includes my two-year-old and, I quickly surmised, a 55+ pound dog.

Since I knew I couldn't realistically break up the melee physically, I did the only thing I could think of. I yelled, "Howard, stop! Let it go! Howard!"

I was as surprised as anyone when he dropped the skunk and ran into the backyard, where he started his roll of shame to get the skunk smell off. The skunk ran into the tangle of flowers next to the garage, and I walked on the other side of the yard to get my dog.

I had to hold onto his collar, but he came with me willingly, and I got him onto the porch and locked the door. I didn't want to bring him into the house since I knew I couldn't lift him into the bathtub, so I went inside and got a couple of wet towels and the Dawn. I cleaned him up as best I could, and the smell was very faint. The skunk had looked very small to me, so I'm pretty sure it's "skunk glands" weren't too strong yet. I didn't see any blood in Howard's mouth or on the white fur that's on his neck and chest.

I called Animal Control, but they were, as usual, all tied up for the day. I called Howard's vet. The police called me back and asked if the skunk was still there. I couldn't see it in the growth of flowers, but I was too afraid to go looking too closely. They said if I couldn't see it, Animal Control would not be able to make it ... there was no point.

When Jeff got home from summer school, he went out and looked for the skunk. He found it in the flowers, dying and covered with flies. This was one of the times, he told me, when he wished he had a .22 because the skunk was clearly suffering. Every time he tried to get too close, the little skunk lifted its tail, so Jeff sprayed water from the hose in its general direction and, when he went to look, the poor skunk was drinking some water. It was as comfortable as it was possible for it to be.

I asked Jeff if he had thought about killing it with a rock or something like that, and he said he couldn't. A gun he could point and look away, but actively killing an animal he was looking at, in a way that might cause it more pain along the way, was something he could not do. I told him this was one of the reasons I love him and that I felt exactly the same.

When we got back from the concert for Ari's music camp, the skunk was dead. Jeff buried it, and I am so grateful that he is able to do things like that, because I just couldn't. 

The skunk Howard killed was just a baby. Later that night, as he was coming home from the store, Jeff saw a mother skunk with six babies on the street near the house. This broke my heart.

The thing is, adult skunks are a nuisance and a danger and completely unnecessary when you live in what is pretty much the inner city. During the summer, Jeff has to go out at night and do a perimeter check before he takes Howard out because, if he doesn't, Howard will sometimes encounter a skunk and get sprayed.

But this was a baby skunk, defenseless, separated from its mother, probably petrified, and hiding in the safest spot it could find.

And my dog, my sweet and gentle dog who sleeps in our bed and is infinitely patient with my children, found it and killed it.

I know Howard was doing what dogs do. I even think he might have been more aggressive than he otherwise would have because I was the one taking him out and he has been especially protective of me since I'm not well. If it was an adult skunk, I might even have been relieved that we wouldn't have to deal with it anymore (although I'm not sure Howard would have been the clear victor if it had been an adult skunk). I know my children go running into the backyard to go in the pool or on the play structure without doing a skunk check. 

But it still makes me sad. 

The worst part for me is that Howard didn't kill it outright. It laid in the flowers suffering for most of the day. It's easy to say, "It was just a skunk", but its mother and siblings were looking for it last night. They didn't get to see it one last time, and it died alone and scared.

Perhaps I'm emotional because of the severity of my medical situation over the past few months, but this was a terrible and tragic reminder of the fragility of life.

RIP, Baby Skunk.  

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