This Side of the Pond – Aug. 22

By Sarah Pridgeon

Until this week, I was unaware that the wildlife of Crook County subscribe to this newspaper. It is the only explanation for the events of Sunday night, which I believe were a negative reaction to my treatise on raccoons.
It would appear that the local skunks were unhappy with my description, which did sort of imply that raccoons are the toughest critters on the block. One in particular took such umbrage that it set out to prove a skunk’s rear end is the most frightening natural phenomenon of them all.
It started out as a perfectly normal evening, so balmy that our windows were flung wide open and so peaceful that we had curled up quietly on the couch to enjoy our weekend downtime. We had no concept of the horror to come.
Suddenly, with the sort of speed usually associated with jet fighters, a cloud of skunk odor whipped through our air conditioning system and permeated every inch of our living room. The dog fell off the sofa in a dead faint and the cat tried to bite through the window screen in a hopeless attempt to escape.
As I coughed and choked, peering through the green fog in bewilderment, the husband rushed to seal every air entrance into the building, tears streaming from his bloodshot eyes and a handkerchief strapped to his nose. Meanwhile, somewhere nearby, a dog howled sadly into the darkness.
The events leading up to the incident will no doubt be familiar to any dog owner reading this column (and also to all the skunk subscribers). Molly, the excitable boxer who lives next door with my parents-in-law, had been let outside for a bathroom break and, during the course of her ministrations, discovered a skunk lurking near the house.
For Molly, any encounter with a fellow creature is a potential opportunity for playtime. As far as she’s concerned, every cat, dog, squirrel, turkey or deer that turns up in the back yard exists purely to be her friend. And so, for the fourth time in her relatively short life, she made the decision to poke at a skunk instead of leaving it well alone.
It was a choice we all came to regret. I’ve encountered the stench of skunk many times before, but always from a distance, while driving along the interstate, for a brief enough period of time to be no more than thought-provoking punctuation for a long drive. This was not the same.
It was at least an hour before the cloud began to dissipate. The smell was bad enough, but then my tongue began to tingle and I realized I could taste it, too. And just in case you have never had the pleasure: skunk stink tastes as bad as it smells.
Things were even worse next door. It transpired that Molly had successfully infiltrated the house and rubbed against 80 percent of the furniture inside before she was caught. Worse still, this was a skunk with particularly good aim – it had sprayed directly into her mouth.
For the next two days, the dog was made to stay outside. She was subjected to numerous cleaning sessions, all to no avail because the source of the problem was her breath. A slobbery dog at the best of times, her saliva was now a hazard to all nearby life forms.
This approach did make it easier to remove the indoor stench, but caused problems for me when it came time to leave for work. It does not make for a calm beginning to the day to run full pelt to the car with a bad-breathed boxer bounding behind you, still looking for a friend to play with.
Before this weekend, I had met a skunk but once. It lived in an animal rescue center in Canada, where it was regularly stroked and petted by children and nuzzled under the nearest person’s chin during nap time.
One of the terms of residency for a skunk in a rescue center is the removal of its scent glands. Fuzzy the Friendly Skunk was a ball of loving snuggles not because of his natural good temper, but because he had surrendered his most effective method of expressing displeasure.
I was far from fooled, but none of my companions had been schooled in the ways of the wilds. Which is why the person sitting next to me when Fuzzy Skunk was handed round for cuddles was so terribly shocked when I nodded thoughtfully and said, “Yep. Friend of mine shot one of those last week.”
This tale may again spark understanding in the humans reading this column, but that’s not my only motivation for including it. To all the bears and mountain lions reading this newspaper, not to mention the more competitive skunks, I acknowledge that you are indeed the toughest of the critters. If I catch you attempting to prove it, however, I still have the cellphone number of that friend.