Ask any rural Mainer: There’s more than one way to wash a skunked dog. None are pleasant, though.
Paul DoironOne day this past summer, my wife was sitting in the backyard, reading a book while our cat lay at her feet, soaking up the sun. The cat, Rooney, is never let outside except under supervision and then only on a harness, which she (barely) tolerates. We don’t want her killing birds.
Suddenly, Rooney sprang to her feet and began making a huffing sound, her attention focused on a lush patch of ferns between the house and the river. A moment later, she lurched forward, nearly squirming free of her harness. Kristen had no idea what was happening until the family of skunks appeared.
The skunks — a mother and three or four kits — were ambling along, seemingly oblivious to both the human and feline presences, but Rooney was ready to rumble. If Kristen hadn’t grabbed her and dashed for safety, we might have found ourselves dealing with a malodorous mess.
The most odiferous members of the weasel family, skunks are rarely aggressive unless they have rabies. They can be quite amiable, in fact. Kristen tells me that her grandparents kept five pet skunks on their saltwater farm in Lincolnville (back when it was legal to keep skunks), four of which had been descented. The lone “intact” skunk was named Sachet Kitten, which strikes me as the best name ever for a skunk.
Many dog owners have less pleasant memories of skunks. Ask them about their experiences, and they will roll their eyes the way teenagers do when their parents get up to dance at a wedding. Gardeners and landscapers can also tell you war stories. Those little bare patches that appeared overnight in your newly mown grass? They were made by skunks digging for grubs. With all the divots, our own lawn looks a driving range for the nearsighted.
For anyone who hopes to get rid of a pesky skunk, the people who make Havahart box traps have some tips on their website. Not surprisingly, they want you to buy a trap first. Next, you bait the trap with oily meat, cat food, or peanut butter on bread. If you do manage to catch a skunk, walk toward the cage, holding a blanket in front of you while humming. (What song to hum seems to be up to you.) When you get as close as you dare, toss the blanket over the trap. Skunks don’t like to spray a target they can’t see. Havahart is unclear whether you should hum while releasing the animal. My feeling is it can’t hurt.
In my third novel, Bad Little Falls, a prankster lets a skunk loose in the trailer of Maine game warden Mike Bowditch. Mike searches in vain for ways to de-funkify his mobile home, but nothing — detergent, bleach, tomato juice — works. After the novel appeared, I received an email from a reader named Jerrie Lembke, who is an experienced de-skunker of dogs. His advice: “I have tried tomato juice and found it to be very close to useless, especially when compared to Massengill douche. The douche works with the first bath and leaves a soft, pettable dog that smells so clean that you won’t believe it. I always have a box that contains two bottles, even if we are between dogs.”
It had never occurred to me that our indoor cat might be at risk of a skunk in broad daylight. Now we will be watching Rooney closely, making sure her harness is secured whenever she is outside. After our close call, I am thinking that I might make a preemptive trip to the pharmacy. I wonder how the clerk will respond when I tell her I’m buying a feminine hygiene product for my cat.