A rose by any other name . . .



Flick's skunk bath

FLICK THE BRITTANY AND I TAKE A WALK EVERY MORNING.  IT’S ABOUT three miles for me and somewhere between nine and fifteen miles for him, I’d guess. Keeps us both in shape for the bird seasons. The usual route leads around the outside of a small golf course, past the local high school, and around the edge of the city’s composting facilities. The advantage of this route is the amount of open space— a well-disciplined dog can get all the exercise he needs without encountering cars, joggers, bikers, and other morning traffic.

There are quite a few wild things in this waste spaces. A mule deer doe and her progeny use them regularly, although I seldom see more than their tracks. The local flock of Canada geese grazes on the outfields of the ball diamonds we pass on our way, and a couple of pairs of mallards nest and raise broods in the vicinity. In some years, the local red fox dens behind the compost piles in the winter. A month or so ago, I met a raccoon crossing the road at dawn, and yesterday, there was a merlin hunting out of one of the shelterbelts.

This morning, there was also a skunk. I didn’t see him, but as soon as I heard Flick’s high-pitched bark, I was afraid there had been a meeting. Sure enough, he came up out of the drainage ditch with a distinct yellow patch between his eyes. It was a direct hit, the stench already drifting down with the breeze. Enough to gag a maggot, as my dad used to say.

Flick and I have had this experience half a dozen times over his life. He doesn’t seek out skunks, but he does sometimes overrun his nose, which leads to occasional confrontations. If I’m lucky, he dodges most of the shot; if I’m not, he catches the full dose square in the face. This morning, he left a scent trail that hung down the street for the better part of an hour.

Every time I have to deal with a skunked dog, I heap blessing upon the anonymous benefactor of all owners of hunting dogs, that gifted soul who invented “the recipe.” This combination of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda is miraculous in its ability to nullify skunk odor. As I was scrubbing Flick down this morning, I recognized some slight modifications I’ve made to hasten the deodorizing process. I offer them to fellow hunters and other dog owners who may be dealing with this problem at some point in the future.

The first time I used the recipe, I just splashed it on the dog while we stood in the backyard. I quickly found that the mixture didn’t do much good after it had soaked into the grass. I diluted my next batch to stretch it, but that reduced its potency. These days, I put the dog in the smallest tub he can stand in— for my 56-pound Brittany, that’s a storage container from Target. That way, I can pour the mixture on him at more or less full strength, then easily recycle it from the bottom of the tub.

For my dog, I use up to 8 quarts of hydrogen peroxide with the appropriate amount of baking soda. The hydrogen peroxide costs a dollar a quart at my super market, so the cost is minimal compared to the extended hassle of keeping a skunked dog around the yard, let alone the house.

The recipe calls for dish-washing detergent or other “liquid soap.” That’s fine if your dog has been sprayed in the rear or flank, but most dogs take the blast right in their faces. Most versions of the recipe warn that you should be careful not to get it in a dog’s eyes, since it really stings. That’s great advice, except that any square millimeter of fur that has skunk musk on it will continue to stink until it’s thoroughly treated. That includes eyebrows, eyelids, jowls, and muzzle. If you are too careful with the dog’s eyes, he will carry a faint eau d’skunk on his face for several weeks.

This time, I decided to use baby shampoo instead of detergent. “Johnson’s No-More-Tears” formula. All that’s required is a wetting agent, and the baby shampoo seems to work just fine for that, while allowing a thorough scrubbing of the dog’s face.

I mix up four quarts of the recipe at a time. When I’m done with the scrub-down and rinse, I ask my wife to sniff-test the dog, partly because she apparently has a more refined sense of smell than I do, but mostly because prolonged exposure to the odor blunts my ability to smell the stuff. A fresh nose is more sensitive.

If there are any areas with residual odor— and there always are— I mix a second batch and concentrate on those places. Rinse copiously with the garden hose, and, once he’s dry, Flick is once again fit company in the house.

Now, if I can just figure out how to deal with that skunk. I can live-trap him, but that leaves a salient question: how to deal with a live skunk in a trap. A .22 long rifle seems the most expedient solution, but I am, alas, inside the limits of a town that allows no discharge of firearms. A detour on the morning walk is probably in order . . .

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