Pay Attention to the Bark

My dog Minion is a barker.  He barks all the time, so much that I have gotten to know his barks.  There’s the “saw a squirrel” bark, the “UPS man on the front porch and I’m going to kill him” bark, and the “what, you’re leaving the house without me, don’t you know the world is a dangerous place” bark.  So when I was awoken by my dog barking at 5am one Saturday morning, I was not surprised.

What did surprise me was the smell. An awful, putrid odor.  By wife sat bolt upright – “what is that?”  My first thought was a natural gas leak, but that wasn’t quite right.  More like the sewer had backed up, but not quite that either.  I was confused, and not just because I woke up at 5am.  I began walking around the house to find the source, but the smell was everywhere – it couldn’t be localized.  Could it be coming from outside?  I quickly got dressed and went out the front door.  It was even stronger outside.  Then I saw my neighbor out in his front yard.  He said the smell had woken him up and he had called 311.  The fire department was on its way in case it really was a gas leak.

When the fire truck showed up, the first words out of the fireman’s mouth was “that’s a skunk”.  Of course, I had smelled skunk before, but it was always the dead-skunk-in-the-middle-of-the-road variety.  Fresh skunk smells different.  I don’t know how to describe it.  Fresher?  They brought out a gas sniffer just in case, but a few minutes later a flashlight-toting fireman said he had found where the skunk had sprayed the back of my house.  Sure enough, on the windows and wall of my house facing the back yard was a six-foot diameter spray pattern of dime-sized droplets, sticky and yellow.  Did you know that skunk spray was yellow?  Neither did I. 

I learned a lot about skunks that day.  For example, no double-paned window has yet been invented that can block that smell from getting into your house. From Google I found out that tomato juice might be good for use on sprayed humans and dogs, but for walls a bleach mixture was best.  Indoors I boiled vinegar on the stove after opening the back door and windows to air out the house.  By this time my kids were awake and they announced that they were not, under any circumstances, going back into that house until the smell was under control.  My wife took them to Starbucks.

I learned that skunk spray is VERY hard to clean off.  Even today some stains remain on my outside wall.  Nonetheless, after several hours of work, the house started getting closer to normal.  By this time it was late in the morning, and I was exhausted.  I decided to relax up in my office, not coincidentally the farthest point in my house away from the source.  A while later I heard my dog barking, loud and insistent.  This was his “I’m stressed to the max and I will not be ignored” bark.  I went downstairs to check it out, not thinking too much about it.  After all, my dog is a barker.

I found him in the living room, tense, straight as an arrow, his nose pointing under a piece of furniture, barking like mad.  Oh no.  Please, no.  I felt my shoulders stiffen and my throat tightening up.  I slowly lowered my head to be able to see under the armoire and there it was:  a mass of black fur with a white stripe.  When I had left the back door open to air out the house, it never occurred to me that a skunk might wonder in.  Just to be clear, I don’t live in the country.  This is a neighborhood near downtown.  These kinds of things don’t happen in the city, right?  My heart started to race and a minor panic began, but my first worry was that my dog was about to get sprayed.  I grabbed him and ran out the back door, shutting it behind me.  I felt relieved that we had avoid a major catastrophe.

This is when I realized that there was a skunk, loose in my house.  And I was trapped outside.  I couldn’t go back in!  There was a skunk loose in my house!  He could be anywhere, and I certainly didn’t want to be sprayed.  Fortunately, I had my phone in my pocket.  I started dialing.  I told my wife not to bother coming home.  I called animal control – “there’s a skunk, loose in my house,” I said.  They were not very helpful.  Once they determined that no one had been bitten and so there was not a rabies risk, they said they could have someone out there in the next 48 hours.  “But there’s a skunk loose in my house”, I repeated.  They did not seem too concerned.  I was concerned.  I started running down the list of Austin pest removal companies that Google provided, getting one answering machine after another.  I was beginning to get desperate – what was I going to do?  Finally, at the end of the list, Urban Jungle Wildlife Specialists answered their phone.  They could have someone out there in an hour.

When the technician arrived he gave off a strong sense of competence.  He had a uniform, and a truck full of equipment.  He had a cage, with a black cloth to through over it, and a long pole with a loop at the end.  The pole with a loop at the end looked very official.  And he had a gun – a pellet rifle.  He had done this before, though he admitted that it was not common to have a skunk loose in your house.  “Skunks are shy,” he explained.  “If one is in your house, it’s probably sick or dying.”  The risk of a rabid skunk was not small.  The first order of business was finding it.  As expected, he did not stay under the armoire.  But 20 minutes later the technician came out.  The good news was he had found the skunk.  The bad news was the skunk could not be approached and coaxed into the cage.  It had found its way into an unfinished storage space underneath the front stairs, backed tightly into a corner, low under that first stair.  Extraction would not be easy.  It would not go well for the skunk.

Reluctantly I gave permission for the use of deadly force.  I have to admit, by this point in time I did not have much sympathy for that skunk.  It was removed, but not before I paid the price of my decision:  he sprayed inside my house.  And I thought it was bad when had sprayed the outside of my house!  The next few days was a blur of hotel rooms, attempts to get skunk smell out of our kids’ clothes so they could go to school, and me cleaning, gaging, bleaching, gaging, deodorizing, gaging, painting, gaging, rinse, repeat, and finally, after two exhausting days, deciding it was safe for the family to go home.  It has now been 18 months since the great skunk disaster, and getting a whiff of that lingering odor happens only rarely now.  I continue to be aware, though, of my dog’s expanded vocabulary.  I will not soon forget the “there’s a skunk loose in my house” bark.

“There’s a skunk loose in my house!”

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