Mi Casa es Su Casa

My first suggested assignment from WordPress for daily blogging: post something that makes you smile.

You mean, besides my facial muscles?

Fine. Easy. I have an immediate answer.

I have Skunk Karma. A lot of Skunk Karma.  Below is how it started.

Bonus: it also may help explain the instant assumption I made in this pony story.

Pet skunk in kitchen
Image via Wikipedia

The first house Shaun and I rented was on a street whose sign read “Walnut Grove Way”. We found out later that our realtor switched the signs out.  We really lived on Crazy Cat Lady Street.

Virtually all of our elderly neighbors left cat food outdoors for the stray cats.  Not just the little X’s of kitty kibble, but the good stuff: canned food and tuna.  We had to keep our cat inside, or he’d weigh 200 lbs.

I began to notice our backyard wildlife was remarkably healthy looking.  Strikingly large possums with clean pink tails and beautiful pelts, crows so black they glittered in the sun, a gargantuan King snake so shiny it gleamed, unable to hide, in the foliage.  There was also a beautiful, highly unusual, suede-colored kitten with long, iridescent whiskers.

Unfortunately, seen from the front, the suede-colored kitten turned out to be a very large rat (with long iridescent whiskers).

While taking care of a vacationing neighbor’s cat, I was startled to see our black cat sitting on their back porch waiting for a hand out.  What the heck?  How did he get out? Not really looking at him, I slide the glass door back and start to reach down to pick him up.

I think: Wow he looks healthy. I’m a good mom.

Then I notice his head is too small.

The too-small pointed head looks up at me, with intelligent, unperturbed, cold, Mafia eyes. This little critter knows he can overpower me with Taser-like precision.

Because he’s capable of immediate, compassion-less, life-ending violence, he can be leisurely and contemplative.

He looks at me curiously:  Nooo...is she really going to pick me up?

I slam the door shut before the glossy skunk has a chance to waddle into the house. He doesn’t bother to lift his luxuriously silky tail at the sudden noise. He’s Skunk Mafia. He’s not even rattled.

I slide to the floor.  I almost picked up a skunk.

While I wait for my heart to slow to 300 beats per minute, the reason all our wildlife looks so darn healthy dawns on me.  I have a flashback to a helping my elderly neighbor (with very thick glasses) unload umpteen cases of cat food from her trunk, vaguely remembering she said something about being up to 4 cases of canned food a week, trying to keep the stray cats fed.

My neighbor has fed a skunk, thinking it’s a cat.  I look for her white house cat. I find him cowering on top of the fridge. Clearly the skunk has been in the kitchen before.

We can make the wrong choice in a heartbeat, never knowing the impact it will have down the line.  Choices that look imperative and reasonable in the moment can go dangerously wrong.

I stopped feeding the skunk, thinking I was kindly solving a problem my neighbor didn’t yet know she had.

It’s true.  Her problem was solved.

Two days later, around one a.m., ours began: Shaun says to me groggily in the dark, “honey, what is that awful…smell?”

I sniff.  There is no doubt in my mind.

The Mafia has found me.

The smell wafts under the bedroom floorboards like an olfactory ghost. I follow it out into the hall, where it pauses.  I pause behind it.  I picture the skunk looking up as I look down, with only a hardwood floor between us.  I hold my breath.  Satisfied (or unconcerned) that it’s not being followed, the ghost scent proceeds to the kitchen, inspects the corners, then seems to disperse.  It vanishes, leaving a lingering sharpness.

We live like this for a few months, fleetingly smelling our ghost skunk every 7 to 10 days.  I’m puzzled.  We do not leave food out.  Our foundation is rather damp.  We have a dog.  These are all deterrents compared to what the skunk vacated next door.

The only remaining conclusion: the skunk is out to get me, for ruining its cover as a cat.

I’ve messed with two very bad things: Mafia, and Karma.

One morning, I wake up to the dog furiously barking and growling at the sliding glass door, digging at the floor to get out.  He was a Lhasa Apso: a hairy mop-dog smaller than our cat.  Hank was desperate to get outside to attack, what?  A squeaky toy?  His hairbrush?  An old sock?

I look.  Lined up on the deck, with their noses pressed against the sliding glass door, was Daddy Skunk, Mommy Skunk, and three little skunkettes.  I immediately recognized Daddy Skunk.  He was looking a lot less unruffled, and a lot more ominous.

I called the Humane Society.  Surely they will come catch the skunks?  No.  They will not. I can pick up a Have-a-Heart Trap, though.  Then when the skunk is caught, I should call them back, and they will come out and shoot it.


No releasing them into the wild?  The irony of shooting a caged skunk caught in a Have-a-Heart Trap was lost on the Humane society.

I’m already in deep Karma doo-doo.  I can’t add skunk killing to skunk insulting.  I hang up and call Animal Control.  I tell the nice lady my problem.  She listens politely.  When I’m done, she says “We have these Have-a-Heart traps  you can pick up for free…”

I finish for her: “and you come out and shoot the skunk when it’s caught?”

She’s relieved, thinking I’m with the program.  “Yes!”, she says brightly, “just don’t go near the trap.”

“Um”, I say, “who has worked in your office the longest?  Is there anyone there who has been there for a really long time? I just have a question.”  I’m preempting her assumption I’m going to complain or pitch a fit.  After much shuffling and being on desk hold, where I can hear everything, including her eye-rolling, I get Walter.

“How can I help  you?”, asks Walter, ready to toss me to the fishies.

“Thanks for talking to me.  I wanted to talk to the person who knows the most about skunks, and I figured it would be the person who has dealt with them the longest.  Is that you?”  I hold my breath, wondering if I can get him on my side.

“At your service.”, says a wary Walter.

“What can I do to get rid of skunks, short of the trap/shoot thing?  Is there anything that will keep skunks away from my house?”, I’m not expecting a real answer.

There’s a long pause.

“Well, in the old days…” says Walter, “…we just used moth balls.”

Moth balls?

“Do they eat them?” I say.

Poisoning the Mafia won’t up my Karma points.

“Nope”, says Walter.  “They leave.  Skunks can’t stand smelly stuff.  They’re real sensitive to smells.  You want to keep them from going under your house, ring it with moth balls, or soak a bunch of old socks in ammonia, and put ’em about every 12 inches. Works every time.  But you gotta keep re-soaking the socks.  If they dry out, see, then they don’t smell so strong, and the skunks come back.” I realize Walter is proud to be called on with his little-known expert knowledge, and will probably be offended if I burst out in gasping hilarious laughter.

“You mean all I have to do is put out moth balls?”, I squeak out.

“Yup.  Cut up some old nylon stockings and make little bags of mothballs. The bags keep ’em from poisoning kids and dogs and stuff.”  Walter is showing off.   He adds, seriously “Just be sure they’re gone for the evening when you put them out, so you don’t trap them under there.  They’re nocturnal, you know.”

I manage to thank him profusely without a single guffaw, though tears are streaming down my face, and I’m snorting strangely.  I hope he thinks my choking snuffling is a cold.

Let me get this straight.

Skunks are completely incapable of tolerating strong odors?  Skunks, who fear nothing, are terrorized by scent?

THAT, makes me smile.

(Footnote: it works.)




10 thoughts on “Mi Casa es Su Casa

  1. We used to feed our cats outside too. One night, I bent over the dish and found myself nose to nose with the ugliest cat. It was large but looked sickly with it’s long, bare tail. We had quite the staring contest and figured it was safest to play dead. That’s right, possum.

  2. But the question is where do you even buy mothballs? We heard they also deter mice, and I’d rather deter them than have my darling idiot dog stick her nose in a mousetrap or gulp down a poisoned dead mouse, but nowhere we’ve looked sells them.

    Also, could you shoot me an email, Jane? It’s funder at gmail – I’ve got a SF question.

  3. The mothball trick also works to keep raccoons away, BTW.

    However, nothing works on rats except punk rock music. Srsly. Rodents hate Sid Vicious–ironic much?

  4. We… er… my spouse picked up a skunk. It had gotten it’s head trapped in a yoplait container (which is why I boycott those guys. they won’t even keep their containers from being skunk head traps). He said it was really light.

    I wrote about it somewhere.
    Oh yea. Here it is (http://crib-notes.blogspot.com/2008/11/raising-stink-nothing-says-daddy-at-our.html) There’s even a picture of a child cuddling a skunk. Probably one kicked out of the mafia.

    Anywho, I was recently raising really huge raccoons when we had cat food outside (in a failed attempt to reduce cat hair). Really huge. Like the size of our german shepherd. No wonder the cats didn’t want to go outside.

    I wonder if I’d picked up a radioactive can of cat food or something…

  5. Wow, a funny story and a useful tip for keeping skunks away! This post-a-day challenge is going great so far! I love the thought of the skunk mafia. Totally believe it too. Those guys are definitely well connected.

    I actually like the smell of skunk, because it reminds me of summer nights on the beach years ago, when the dogs would inevitably run into the reeds and find a skunk, and I’d end up giving them listerine/tomato juice/Dawn baths in the dark in the back yard. Those nights were so much fun that the skunk thing was just one more thing to laugh about, and now the smell is actually a positive association, strange as that may sound.

  6. That is ironic, isn’t it?Great story. We had a skunk spray while under our house and my poor son had to go to school with skunky clothes on. At least he laughs about it now.

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