Those who know me know I’m nuts about animals. Any kind of animal. That’s why you sometimes duck into the nearest alcove if you see me coming with flyer in hand showing some adorable dog, cat, rat, bird, fish—and yes, there was that one horse—each and every one in need of a permanent home. But let’s face it: a lot of animals are abandoned out there who need loving human companions. The shelters and rescue organizations are desperate to find great foster and permanent families. And that brings us to Roxie.
Roxie was still practically a puppy a while back, with all the exuberance that a shepherd/chow mix could muster. Which means when she came to our foster house she managed to chew the edge off of a fine Persian carpet and leave some nice scratches in the hardwood floor. She needed to be run daily to work off some of that energy, even though she had our acre-and-a-half to explore.
So there I was coming back from my morning walk with her—a beautiful late spring day—and as we passed through our gate I released her leash so that she could do what she did best…hop and bound about with all the enthusiasm only young dogs can show. She loped around the heavily-planted center island in our yard and I ran along behind, losing her momentarily from sight, when suddenly spots appeared before my eyes. Black and white spots, round balls of fur the size of kittens, and the cutest fluffy striped tails you’ve ever seen.
Baby skunks. Five or six of them. No time to take an accurate census.
Now a Roxie has no idea what she’s tackling when she decides she’s found new play pals, but I have a pretty good idea the whole idea stinks. So I do a fast tuck and roll maneuver, hoisting her under my arm as best and can, and race with her down to the safety of the garden house as she cranes her neck to look back longingly at the little treasures she’s just discovered. She whimpers in disappointment.
Well, those little darlings are in no hurry to leave our yard, so we call the Wild Animal Rescue folks, who tell us that little ones big enough to be out on their own can survive fine on their own, so we should just let them be. No need to feed them. (Of course, if there happens to be a little left-over cat food lying around…) And I recalled the road kill we had passed on our walk and presumed it to be the little ones’ mother, so they were now definitely left to their own devices.
So we became foster parents, and the rambunctious play of these critters made for great fun. We watched them rear back on their hind legs and tumble over each other as they made faux attacks. They played every morning and evening next to our koi pond, occasionally tumbling into the water and emerging to shake energetically before returning to their play. They disappeared by night into the rock den we discovered near our gate, undoubtedly their place of birth.
Now you should know that skunks have terrible eyesight, so are thus easily surprised. Spooked. Ready to fend off the attack. And they spend a lot of time snuffling around the ground looking for grubs and insects, so they are quickly distracted. It was entertaining to watch the little ones practicing their defensive arts. They would lift their tails high while thumping the ground with their front paws in warning when something large and possibly threatening came too close.
I would sit reading the morning paper, glancing up occasionally to watch their antics. And one time glancing down when I felt one of our cats cross my bare feet, I spied a little polecat instead.
A week or so after their first appearance, Roxie decided at last to make closer acquaintance when we weren’t looking. In response to the shout that Roxie had been skunked I came running with the closest thing to tomato juice in our pantry…Italian chopped tomatoes. As Roxie whined at the error of her ways, we turned her into a bruschetta, then washed her down thoroughly in the master bathroom shower, toweled her off, and put her in the garage to dry. When I went out later to see how she was doing, she greeted me with great shakes of enthusiasm and decorated car and garage wall with flecks of errant tomato that had lodged in her floppy ears.
The second time she introduced herself to the skunklets we were better prepared. We’d purchased a special soap which diminishes the odor of skunk.
Gradually they grew, and fewer and fewer appeared at the pond. And one day our guests were gone.
From time to time I see a skunk cross our yard and wonder if it’s an old friend, or a descendant of our little yard guests. We ourselves have never been skunked, even when we stumble on one and surprise it.
Roxie found a great permanent family in Nevada. With an ancient dog too old to play, but kids to run and play her games. They soon acquired another Roxie-type to keep Roxie active and happy. And so she is.
A while back I sat on my outdoor terrace with one of our cats. With morning paper in hand, I enjoyed an espresso as the sun came up on the pond. The cat rubbed against my bare foot, and I reached down to stroke her back, but my hand stopped short when I realized we didn’t live with any black and white cats. The fully-grown skunk sniffed my feet (no reflections on personal hygiene here, please), looked up at me with a comfortable—if short-sighted—recognition, then ambled on her way.
The cat watched with casual disregard.
Copyright 2013 Patrick W. O’Bryon