At one this morning, I got up with a mild case of gastrointestinal trouble and went out to read on the couch for a while so I wouldn’t wake Matt. Because dogs and children know when you are about to go to sleep and feel obliged to get you up and moving again, Daisy, our heeler/border collie mix, came out just as I dropped off and asked to go outside. It was about 2:30.
We have a Skunk Check Protocol for the months between April and November. A human goes out first with the huge flashlight and looks around the yard, on the theory that we’re less likely to engage with a skunk than the dog and easier to wash than said dog if we trip over one. Daisy waits inside until the scout comes back and issues the all-clear. This time, sleepy and slightly wretched, I opened the door before giving the “wait” command. Daisy shoved past me and hurtled, growling, toward the back yard. I trained the flashlight on her. Just past the gate, right by the clothesline, I saw her jump, hunch, and run out of sight behind the house.
Then I saw the skunk. I had five thoughts in one very crowded moment:
1. It’s a small skunk. Maybe she didn’t get hit too hard. Maybe it’s too young to spray.
2. When your best hope is “It’s a small skunk,” things are not good.
3. What if it’s a baby? Where’s the mom? Where’s Daisy? Is she getting hit again?
4. Why are skunks so bloomin’ cute? What is it they do? Prance? Trundle? Trundle is good. It looks like the adorable little toy in the horror movie that ends up killing everybody.
5. It’s trundling up the path right at me.
At that point, I dropped my considerations of natural history, philosophy, and film criticism, hopped inside, and slammed the door.
I opened it five seconds later because I love my dog. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear. Apparently imperfect love casts out fear at about a five-second interval. The skunk disappeared into my Shasta daisies, heading around the back steps toward the driveway and freedom. Daisy appeared out of the back yard and rocketed into the house. I couldn’t stop her so I followed her, screaming for Matt. It was not his happiest awakening.
Please believe me in the absence of contemporaneous evidence here. Daisy is usually very intelligent. She has a large vocabulary and never forgets a name or a face. If I tell her “R is coming to see us,” she goes to the window and watches for R’s car, and if R doesn’t come in but just drops her child off for a violin lesson, Daisy sulks for hours. She obeys commands when she judges them to be justified; because she loves us, that’s almost all the time. But she had gotten sprayed right in the face, the world was one huge horrible bad smell, and her people were yelling. She turned into forty-five pounds of panicked, fast-twitch muscle with no brain at all. She tried to wipe her face on the living room carpet, on the hallowed spot where all the animals go to barf. When we tried to grab her, she went between us and headed straight for the place where she feels safest.
I should feel honored that the place where she feels safest is on my side of the bed. At the moment, however, that fact was not a happy one. It became less happy when we wrapped her in an old sheet and picked her up. She is not used to being picked up. She doesn’t like being picked up. The world was a huge horrible bad smell, her people were wrapping her in a sheet and picking her up and talking in agitated voices, and this had all started when she needed to pee. So she peed all over my side of the bed.
We lugged her poor, stinking, shivering body into the bathtub. She was drooling copiously. Her right eye was swollen shut. We called the vet (I’m sorry, Colleen). On the vet’s advice, we dribbled saline into her eye until she could hold it open, then did the same for the other one because it was red, too. We mixed up a batch of the only thing that works on skunk: 1 quart hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda, dash of dish soap. I dabbed her face very carefully and scrubbed the rest of her with it. Then came the long ten minutes before time to rinse, holding the old sheet over her so she wouldn’t shake skunk everywhere. (Meanwhile, Matt was putting the mattress pad and sheets into the washer, the first of five loads of laundry.) I took a moment to marvel that Daisy, despite her misery and panic, hadn’t even growled at us. I’d probably bite. Eowyn, the cat who doesn’t like the other cats, lives in the big bathroom, and she watched the whole process with an expression that clearly said, “What are you doing with that DOG in MY space, and WHAT is that SMELL?”
We rinsed Daisy off, with Matt pouring buckets of water over her body and me dabbing at her face with a wet washcloth like some manaical makeup artist. We threw another old sheet over her and let her shake, then dried her with old towels. Usually we have to do multiple rounds of the peroxide mix. This time we didn’t. It was a young skunk; apparently it didn’t have its full stink capacity yet, though it was certainly adequate (and its trundling skills were second to none).
Daisy drank some water and ate a Composure chew. We grabbed an old blanket and pillow and made her a bed on the tile floor in the kitchen because she wanted to get on the couch and the couch is not an option until our numbed senses of smell return enough to be sure she’s not still whiffy. We took turns sitting with her until she calmed down and could accept that this was a good bed, not her couch, but good. At some point (memory got less linear after the bath was done and the adrenaline levels dropped), we did a Secret Service-worthy check of the gravel driveway with the big flashlight and got her out there, where she finally finished peeing. She really had tried to hold it. Poor good girl.
We poured hydrogen peroxide on the carpet, which is the worst spot. I wiped down the entire bathroom with a peroxide-soaked rag under Eowyn’s disgruntled supervision. We opened all the windows, which was the cosmic signal for the rain to start. We left the windows open. We ran the second big load of laundry on hot, long cycle. I finally got a very long shower, despite the notable lack of hot water.
At dawn, I went into the back yard and had an unhappy epiphany: we hadn’t brought the clothes in off the line last night and they were hanging right over the epicenter of the stink. Make that seven loads of laundry.