Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How it came that I took a faceful of skunk juice


Rudy, the 11-year-old mutt and Milo, the young 14 pound Yorkie mix were five houses from home at the end of a two mile walk. We’d already run the gauntlet…keeping Milo’s leash secure at all the trouble points – where Grand River traffic flies past perilously close to the sidewalk; where the big German Shepherd rushes the sidewalk; where Milo wants to charge the gate where two Golden Retrievers live. It was autopilot the last few hundred yards to home.

Lost in thought – a topic I can’t retrieve – I was surprised when the leash tore out of my hand.


Damn! A cat. He’s going to kill the neighbor’s cat. Can’t let that happen.

I can be quick. And Milo had now made contact with the “cat” underneath a bush and out of sight. It was about the same distance from the middle of the baseline to a well-placed shot in the corner. I can get there.

But it wasn’t the tennis court, and my pivot to the right was awkard and staggering. As I lunged toward the bush I fell forward, grabbing for Milo’s leash with my free hand. My other hand death-gripped Rudy’s leash – I wasn’t about to let him join the attack – and he was dragged with me toward the bush.

I missed Milo’s leash, but arrested my fall by landing on my knees, falling forward on my free forearm. I looked up.


No. Cat!

The mind plays funny tricks. In retrospect, there were four fully-formed thoughts that raced through my head in the next millisecond. The last three were barfed forth by some primitive part of my anscestoral brain as a defense mechanism against a truth too ugly to confront.

  1. Skunk!
  2. No, it can not be a skunk. (Because my face is only a foot, maybe two, from it. So, no. Therefore it can not be a skunk)
  3. It is a cat. A cat that looks uncannily like a skunk. How unusual!
  4. I do not smell skunk. If it were a skunk, it would have sprayed me. It is definitely not a skunk. Definitely. A cat that looks like a skunk! Striking.

I saw the stream coming. Point blank. In my eyes. Up my nostrils. In my mouth.

What happened next is spot-on with anything I’ve read about people who’ve been teargassed or pepper sprayed at close range. Throw in a couple cop cars, drop 30 pounds, and I could’ve been a flailing, Tasered, meth addict subdued on an episode of Cops.

I shot upright and staggered into the neighbor’s driveway. My face felt on fire. My eyes tightly shut, tears streaming, snot flailing out my nostrils, drool lolling out my mouth. I dropped to my knees and vomited.

How long was I paralyzed on my knees, cursing, drooling and snotting? A minute? Three? 30 seconds that felt like five minutes?

I still had a hammer grip on Rudy’s leash, but Milo?

The scrappy little bastard showed up in our lives this summer. Ragged and burr-covered. Nothing but an old-fashioned clear flea collar to testify that someone had once tried to own him. Heroic efforts to locate an owner failed. And he defaulted to us.

His proclivity for bolting joyously through an open gate and disappearing on racous adventures gave some clue to his vagrant nature. Now he was on the loose. In the dark. With a skunk. And I was helpless.


What to do. Call Karen.

I unlimbered the iPhone from my pocket. I was doing something proactive and it felt good. A first step toward taking control. Call for backup! Cool in a crisis! Wait. I can’t open my eyes. I kneeled, stupefied for some inderminate amount of time. Would I be able to see in another minute? Wait it out? Or will it be an hour? Should I try and feel my way to the neighbor’s door and knock? (“Hi. I’ve been sprayed in the face by a skunk. Can you take my phone and dial “Karen?” This is my dog, Rudy. Say hi to the nice people Rudy. Do you see my other dog? Can I use your restroom? Just kidding!”

All the while, my face burned. Each breath sucked nature’s original nerve agent through my inflamed nostrils. Teary saline gushed down my cheeks.

A little panic, crept in. Raw jabbing at the outskirts of racing thoughts. Will I need to go to the hospital for this? Could it be serious? I’ll Google it on my phone! Wait, what? No. Can’t use my phone, right.

Gradually, I was able to crack open an eye, then two. Milo. He was right there. Bewildered. Maybe frightened. And he’d stuck by.

I grabbed his leash. Dialed Karen.
Having just emerged from a long, hot shower before bed, she answered.

Hi there!

I’m having a crisis. We all got skunked. I’ll be there in a minute.

Our screaming match, the first in more than a year I would guess, was inevitable in retrospect.

When I stumbled into our yard, shutting the gate behind and began stripping off collars and clothing, things were on the upswing. Ninety seconds earlier I was blind, helpless, vomiting man with a missing dog and the possibility of an emergency room visit. Now I had secured both dogs, regained vision, alerted reinforcements, and the worst-case-scenario – hospitalization – seemed remote.

For Karen, that trajectory was different.  She was a few minutes away from a warm bed, a book, and drifting off to sleep after a long Monday. Ninety seconds later, her husband was drooling and staggering about the driveway, her terrified dogs were cowering, she was rushing to put clothes on the hideous scent of skunk had already begun wafting into the house.

She assembled our armaments. And, for the love of God. Write this down.

--- Fresh hydrogen peroxide
--- Baking soda
--- Dawn dishwashing detergent

Nothing removes skunk odor. This comes closest. We know this from experience. But never one like this.

I watched, still crying and drooling, outside. She held her phone up. Jesus! She’s trying to find the exact recipe. Just dump the shit in a bowl! I barged in … a move that will cost me in June when I’m working in the hot, damp kitchen.

It says a half a cup of soda.
 I don’t think it matters.

It says to apply it as soon as possible.
Damnit, that’s what I’m trying to do.

It says to rinse your eyes with water.
\Seriously, I can barely keep them open without running water over them. Oh damn that hurts. What bullshit web site did you read that on?)

It stinks. Yeah, I am aware of that….BECAUSE IT SHOT UP MY NOSTRILS!



She left. And she reminded me this morning that she did not use the F word during the exchange.

I poured the bubbling mixture over the terrified dogs in the garage. Milo shook Fear? Cold? Crummy time of year to be bathing dogs outdoors.

I rubbed the peroxide mix into my face. My hair. Up my nostrils. Shit was real now.
Leashing the dogs back up, I literally dragged them down to flights of stairs and into the tiny, standup shower stall. Barely enough room for a person, much less this miserable collection of stinking beasts.

I rinsed off the peroxide as best I could. And we sat. Shivering. While Karen checked out of the grocery store. “Have a good night,” the clerk beamed. Probably not.


Milo and I slept downstairs. Rudy, who we unwisely determined “wasn’t that bad” slept in our bedroom with Karen. Every hour she awoke to open or close windows.

I’ve taken a “skunk day” off work. Milo’s at the groomer. Karen’s at work where she reports red, itchy, watery eyes; respiratory irritation; headache and nausea. And her coworkers say she smells. They’re probably imagining it. I’m fine, save for red eyes and 4 hours sleep.

The house, for all I know, is a stinking hellhole. But all I can smell is the occasional rank smell on me, my dogs, or, especially, the nifty new down coat Karen found me last fall. Best coat I ever owned, toxic beyond salvation. Also destined for waste disposal:

--- Michigan State sweatshirt (this can’t be a good Tournament omen)
--- Workout pants
--- Iphone cover
--- Leashes, collars, harness
--- Socks (shoes?)

Mom laughed hysterically. The way she only does when I’ve been utterly humiliated.

“You know, Mr.  McDuffie (our late friend who was curator of reptiles at the Cincinnati Zoo) used to get skunked all the time. He said the odor would go away in a week (hey, that’s actually not that bad!… count on Mom for looking at the sunny side!)

“….but that then months later on some warm, humid day no one at church would sit next to him it would come back so bad!”

 I love that woman!



  1. Awesome story. After reading this my own bad day doesn't seem so bad after all.

  2. Best laugh I have had all week.

  3. Great story! Definitely worthy material to resurrect Mitten State.

  4. I love that Milo! And now the scrappy little beast is legendary. Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. I'm a friend of Hans Voss. This is my worst nightmare. I used to live in Telluride Colorado where people were scared to bump into a bear. For me it was the common skunk that put fear into my heart. Thanks you for this well told and funny story. Funny because it didn't happen to me but I know, somehow, I am destined for it.

  6. Your picture is my new screen saver.

  7. HI Hugh! It's Jean Smith here... just had time to sit down and read this! Like I told you Saturday, you really are too nice for this to have happened too! But I laughed so hard I cried again!
    Poor Karen... LOL!