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Fun With Skunks and Dogs

Friday, March 20, 2020

I first saw her March 7, moving slowly, even for a skunk, across the sideyard. It took only seconds for me to realize that something was wrong. She was injured, probably with a broken left hind leg. The instinctive helper in me was instantly and permanently sad. There's really little way that I can think of to help an injured skunk, without getting yourself permeated with its noxious scent for the next few months.

Oh, it was so hard to watch her hobbling along. Try as I might, I couldn't think of a way to capture and hold her to get her into care, without rendering myself unspeakably smelly. I know of someone who recently tried; valiant Deb caught an injured skunk and took it in her car to a rehab facility, but even there, people were utterly amazed that she'd do that. She and her car got good and sprayed for her kindness, too. I love skunks, but even I don't love them enough to be willing to do that.

You can see the unnatural arch of her back that says she's favoring the near hind leg.

I've been continuously living with this stench, both intense and faint,  ever since Curtis Loew came into my life, and I can tell you that it's not something I'd willingly invite by trying to handle a wild skunk. As of his last event in January 2020, he'd been sprayed three times in 11 months. The events were evenly enough spaced that juuust as he was starting to smell like potting soil and sunshine again, he'd go and get himself doused. It has been thoroughly discouraging. How can such a smart dog be so durn dumb about skunks? Is a fondness for playing with mustelids one of the many traits that got him surrendered by his former owners? I would bet so. In all his nearly twelve years, Chet Baker got sprayed twice. The first time was his fault (Ooh! Look at the kitty! Does it want to play?) The second was a complete accident (taking a 10:30 pm mad walk, we both tripped over a skunk in the pitch dark). And after that episode, when Chet saw a skunk, he'd immediately sit down, clear his throat, watch with great interest, and refuse to go any closer. He was not slow. Neither is Curtis; in fact in many ways Curtis is more clever than Chet. But he's also a cur, bred to hunt, and therein lies the problem.

 I heard Curtis one morning in the third week of January 2020, deep in our west woods, giving an angry, commanding bark. I didn't  like the sound of that bark. It sounded like he had something cornered, low; his treed animal bark is higher and more yelpy. And it wasn't too long before he came lolloping up the meadow, long strings of foamy slobber coating his head and chest. He'd stop to roll, then keep running toward home. What the heck did you get into? Oh. OH. OHHHH. Crap!! Not again!!

By this third time that he'd pulled this, I'd figured out how to handle it, and I told him he was NOT coming in the house. No, I left him outside while I prepared a bucket of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dishwashing liquid.  Here's the recipe:

  • 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide 
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap
 I gloved myself,  leashed him, and made him stand on the sidewalk while I lathered him up, three times in a row. It was absolutely miserable for us both. Only when I got him to where I could stand to be near him did I carry him straight to the downstairs tub for more peroxide rinses and then a real hot bath. I did not allow him inside to jump up on furniture or rub himself on the carpet, all of which he did in the two previous episodes, anointing my house with a stench that lasted weeks. DisGUSting.

Far as I knew, I had a dog who was never going to learn about skunks. I realized that, in Curtis, I had a macho-a-s dog who thought it was worth it to get sprayed, if he could just get the right grip on that funny little animal. The first time, he'd rushed a skunk as the kids walked him out the meadow.  A good spraying ensued.  I had the opportunity to test him on a long lead not long afterward. I spotted a skunk feeding in a distant meadow and walked him obliquely toward it, leash slack, without saying a word. (This was a test.  Everything is an experiment). He spotted it, went on alert, stalked it (not a good sign) then, forgetting he was on lead, bolted toward it. I was only too happy to bring him up with the leash and give him a good scolding. You idiot! Unreformed, clearly, and utterly unrepentant. You want me to hunt, right??

 In our next encounter, he was walking at twilight ON A SHORT LEASH with ME HOLDING IT and Shila right beside us when he dove into a ditch and came up twirling around in a circle with a SKUNK in his JAWS. That time was extra special. There was so much screaming!  Shila and I still laugh our heads off when we talk about it. Spinning! Screaming! Cussing! A real stinky ride home in my car! Which stank for weeks! And in this fourth encounter, he'd cornered one deep in the woods and taken it right in the kisser. NOT LEARNING. Not even CLOSE. Some might call him an idiot. I knew it was something closer to invincibility, stubborn, butt-headed courage. It was worth it to him, for the thrill of the hunt. And this was bad.

And now I had a badly injured skunk right smack in my yard who couldn't go anywhere fast. Great. I could see this was not going to end well. A lot of people would have solved the problem with a bullet in the skunk. I am not like a lot of people. I prefer to lead a more interesting life than that.

Watching the little animal, I decided it was probably a female, since it was the smallest adult skunk I'd seen. I could also tell the injury was recent, and painful. I suspected she had been hit by a car, since both legs on her left side seemed to be affected. I don't think Curtis could have done it, because the last time he was sprayed was back in January, and here it was March 7. And he certainly would have been sprayed for his efforts had he grabbed her and injured her.

Over the next few days, that skunk showed up in the compost area every day at 5 pm. OK, for now the plan was to keep Curtis inside in the late afternoon. It was a plan that could work in the short term, but it was only a matter of time before Curtis would stumble across her. I dreaded that, but all the same I was fascinated by her, and the way she was learning to compensate for her injuries. She seemed to move just a little better with each passing day. I hatched a plan to support her with food until she could get around better. I suspect that most people would think that was dumb. Even I thought it was about 85% dumb. But I couldn't help myself.

 It started innocently enough. She was rooting around in the compost pile, and I went over and picked up a window-killed cardinal that I had laid out for the sharp-shinned hawk who got robbed by a bobcat in my last blogpost. The sharpie had eyed the dead bird but never took me up on the offer. He is a grown male, perfectly capable of catching fresh food. Sharpies are not scavengers, like their phlegmatic buteo cousins. They're finicky hawk royalty. The cardinal had been lying in freezing temperatures for three days, was still good, and I figured the hurt skunk could use the protein. So I crept as close to the compost pit as I dared, lobbed the bird in a high arc and brought it to a perfect landing about 6" from the skunk's head. The skunk jumped comically, looked around, followed her nose, and immediately dug in. She ate the cardinal's head, crunching down its massive beak with impressive power. I cannot imagine swallowing a cardinal's beak, but she did it. (Maybe I'll find that poop!)  Then she picked the bird up and carried it into a trumpetvine tangle to finish her excellent meal.

I don't have photos of all that happened the next time I saw the skunk. It was a couple days later: Monday, March 9, a beautiful warm afternoon, and I had the windows thrown open to air the house out. I was in the studio,  washing the floor, and it suddenly occurred to me that the skunk ought to be in the yard about now. I looked outside and the first thing I saw was Curtis, moseying slowly across the side yard. Ut-oh. He stopped for a pee. I scanned the yard. His head came up, ears pricked, and he went tense. I followed his gaze to the innocent little skunk, bumbling toward the compost pit maybe 100' away.

Like an arrow shot from a crossbow, Curtis launched himself at the animal. And just as quickly, I hollered NO!! NO!!  NONONONONONONO CURTIS NO NONONONONO!!

Because the windows were open, Curtis heard me, picked up on the anguish in my voice. For once, he did not go selectively deaf, as he has so many times when I've tried to turn him off a scent. And that dog stopped in his tracks. Turned. Tucked his tail and groveled up to me (By then, I'd thrown myself out the front door and was headed out to get sprayed, too). The skunk stood her ground. She hadn't even lifted her tail. Curtis was at my feet, miraculously odorless and thoroughly chastised. Most amazing, he was saying he was sorry. Who are you, and what have you done with my bone-headed huntin' dog??

A miracle had occurred. To me, it was on the same scale as Moses parting the waters or a nun in a cinnamon bun. I had somehow called a thick-headed mountain cur with a prey drive the size of Nebraska off the easiest prey he'd ever get to grab. It all spoke to the immense value of offering a firm correction at the very moment it is needed. Which is exactly at the moment the dog is doing the stupid thing. Not before. Not after. 
At. That. Moment. 

I praised Curtis, laughing and crying at the same time. He sheepishly accepted my hugs, then slunk off toward the front door. I tried to call him to me, so we could go a bit closer, look at the skunk together and talk about why we don't mess with skunks. He was having none of my yammer. He was done with that scene. 
Score one for the skunk! One for Curtis Loew! Score a huge one for Zick!

Slow clap for the dog.

I was so pathetically grateful to the skunk for holding her fire that I put GoodBoy Curtis inside and fetched a handful of his kibble to throw to her. In this video, she's gladly vacuuming up my offering. Yep, 85% dumb, and 100% grateful, that's me. There's just something about skunks that I adore, and no amount of inconvenience and discomfort that they cause can change that. My heart surged with hope that, against all odds and Curtis' inborn ways, we had finally found a way to coexist.


You know there's more to the story. There's always more.


I love skunks, albeit from a distance. Such beautiful creatures. I'm glad that Curtis managed to curb his instinct, and I hope to hear more about this story soon. We can all use some beauty in our lives right now.

Posted by mimimanderly March 20, 2020 at 3:43 AM

From Chet Baker clearing his throat, to GoodBoy Curtis, and Madame Skunk, what a great tale, and there's more to tell. Thank you for a smile when needed.

IF!!! Spraying occurs again. Leash dog & walk him home outside the car thru downed window…

I keep this on hand at all times. Works like a charm!

I love this story! I can't wait to read the next post. Skunks are such beautiful creatures. We had one in our yard before sunrise yesterday morning. I loved watching her looking for food to eat out there. Curtis is learning how to live with skunks! Yay!

Riveting. You tell such incredible stories.

The first time I heard you speak was at Mohican Wildlife Weekend 20??, Mohican School in the Out-of-Doors. At that time I thought to myself, "This girl wears my soul!" This post proves it. There are not many folks who would have rushed out to save that unfortunately lucky little beast. Every step you made was in line with what would have happened here. I pulled a baby squirrel, bunny and yes, even a mole(or at least attempted to), from the mouth of my, now deceased, darlin' dunkel headed Aussie. Thank you for being you and letting your heart rule your head. The animal world sings!

Wow what a story. Let's hope that Curtis keeps smelling like roses :D

I'm with you. Skunks are great, easy to accommodate to watch. But then I don't have a Cur.

Oh, I don't have good feelings for the rest of the story. Thank you for keeping us amused in this stressful time.

Truly, my life is everything I could ever hope for just because I have a friend who can say "I went over and picked up a window-killed cardinal that I had laid out for the sharp-shinned hawk who got robbed by a bobcat in my last blogpost."

Great story! That is a tiny delicate little skunk. I want it to end well for her.

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