Two Dogs and a Skunk Walk Into a Yard
It was 3:39 a.m.
Our 12-year-old dog, Franklin, had just awakened me from a sound sleep to go outside, three hours and 28 minutes before sunrise. This is the sort of detail you want to recall for your husband with the precision of the first officer at the scene. You’ll see why.
Sherrod was in Washington doing his job. I don’t hold this against him. I just want us to be clear about who had to get up at 3:39 in the morning to take out our beloved elderly dog, and who did not.
Franklin had to go potty. I’m past the age where I am entitled to judge this. Five-year-old Walter was immediately infused with the same sense of urgency because he is that guy who will not miss anything. He is my 10-pound guard dog.
It took me about three minutes to slide out of bed, slip into my robe and slippers, disable the alarm and follow the dogs racing down the steps to the back door. I swung it open and out they dashed.
Immediately, Walter was barking so loudly that his body kept lifting off the ground as he looked back and forth between me and something that only he could see. This should have been my first clue. Franklin was absent and silent, which was the second clue.
I kicked off my slippers and slid into my rubber Wellies, which I keep by the door like generations of farm wives before me. I grabbed the camping light which has never been used for camping because, sorry, I’m not that girl and this would be a nice time not to judge me for that. Our camp lights are for emergency reading when the power goes out, which is why we own two.
I ran out onto the deck and that’s when it hit me: Our dogs had just met a skunk.
Hours later, I would recall the nighttime security camera footage I had sent Sherrod back in May of a mother skunk and her surfeit of babies, known as kits, skirmishing just outside the side door of our garage. It was a blurry image, but we live in Cleveland and I’m pretty sure we don’t have black-and-white caterpillars big enough to trigger security spotlights. Besides, surely our sturdy, reinforced fence would keep them out, I told Sherrod.
Speaking of Sherrod, I want to make clear here that I still wasn’t blaming him for not being with me, even as the stench of skunk wafted over me like the aftermath of a detonated bomb. His very important job and all that.
Boy, have I learned a thing or seven about skunks.
Maybe the most important lesson: Close your door. As soon as you catch the faintest whiff of skunk, slam that door with the force of a woman whose cheating ex who just showed up demanding souvenir flasks from your honeymoon in Vegas. If you’re smart, you already have your de-skunking kit readily available. If you’re me, you’ve never heard of a de-skunking kit, and you inexplicably leave the door wide open to your highly upholstered house after you smell the reason you should have one.
Walter ran onto our deck first. He is portable, so I lifted him up for a sniff. No skunk. Good boy, limber lad, avoiding the 10-feet trajectory of that spray. Franklin, however, is long and low to the ground, with tresses like Farrah Fawcett’s in that famous 1976 poster. No kidding, people say this about our boy Franklin, and I wish you could see the look on Sherrod’s face every time they do. But then again, I wish I could have seen Sherrod’s face on the night of the skunk shindig in our yard. No blame, no blame. Just stating a fact.
Anyway, while I was holding Walter, Franklin swooped onto the deck and flew through the open door with his fur on fire. Immediately, he began to zoom, which is what dogs do when they are trying to rub themselves free of bath water, say, or the nuclear power of skunk stink.
He rolled on the kitchen rug. He rolled on the dining room rug. He rolled on the living room rug that has been in Sherrod’s family for 78 years.
I think this is the moment when I yelled, “And where are you, Senator-Save-the-World?” I’m not proud of this.
Franklin rolled on both upholstered sofas in the living room and then zoomed up the carpeted stairs to our bedroom, where he leaped onto our bed and burrowed under the white cotton quilt. By the time I got there, his soggy head was nestled onto my pillow.
I dragged him into my arms, pressing him against my nightgown and robe (don’t do this) as I lugged him to my bathroom and into the shiny white tub.
Fun discovery: You know that gentle, sudsy oatmeal dog shampoo with colloidal oat flour and honey? It is to laugh. Working up a lather of that stuff is like throwing lard into an oven fire. The soap mocks you and the spray of water ramps up the power of the stink. Something about thioacetates converting into thios. This makes your dog smell so bad, you’re clutching the edge of the tub and trying not to pass out. PBS has a nice little Gross Science video about all this, including a shot of skunk anus squirting its firepower. Can’t unsee that one.
In defense of skunks, they’d rather not squirt us, and they give all kinds of warnings for us to back off, including hissing, stomping and lifting their tails. As our Franklin learned, if you’re going to ignore all these warnings and be a jerk about it, only one of you, to quote Leo Tolstoy, is going to benefit from further acquaintance.
We had to wait two days for Franklin’s appointment with our groomers at Beauty in the Beast. By the way, isn’t that a perfect name for a place that greets your smelly dogs like returning heroes and sends them home basking in the light aroma of jasmine and peonies and wearing seasonal bandanas around their necks?
Before Franklin’s appointment, I frantically tried to follow the advice of countless good-intentioned people offering tips on Facebook. I checked Franklin for cuts and scrapes and used paper towels to soak up as much of the spray as I could. Tomato juice, I learned before trying, is an old remedy that does not work. I also learned, too late, that too many companies promoting products with skunk in their names do not appear to have met any.
What does work is the home remedy used by our groomers and recommended by everyone from the Humane Society to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources:
1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide
¼ cup of baking soda
1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid detergent
Mix this solution and use it right away. Soak cotton balls or the corner of a rag and gently rub around your dog’s face, avoiding their eyes and nose. Use more liberally everywhere else, but rinse quickly or your Bernese Mountain Dog will be a redhead for a while.
Franklin smells fine now, as long as he doesn’t stand in the rain. Walter continues to hover around him like a royal servant, far enough to avoid contagion but close enough to hear every word for his future tell-all memoir.
Sherrod arrived three days after the great skunking. By then, I had aired out our house, scrubbed every stitch of fabric Franklin had touched and filled most rooms with burning candles and bowls of vinegar.
“Smells great in here,” Sherrod said as he walked through the door, his arms opened wide.
The dogs were very happy to see him.