Skunks a smelly sign of spring

Posted April 07, 2011, at 3:22 p.m.
Julia Bayly's dog, Corky after it was scrubbed following an encounter with a skunk.
Julia Bayly's dog, Corky after it was scrubbed following an encounter with a skunk.
Julia Bayly's dog, Apollo after it was scrubbed following an encounter with a skunk.
Julia Bayly's dog, Apollo after it was scrubbed following an encounter with a skunk.

Forget robins, crocuses, ice out or nest-building ravens.

Anyone who lives in rural Maine knows the signs of spring are small, furry, black with white stripes and whose arrivals are heralded by the first warmly scented breezes of the year.

Or, as in the case here at Rusty Metal Kennel, delivered courtesy of the two indoor dogs, Corky and Apollo.

Now, don’t get me wrong — as stated in previous columns I’ve adopted a sort of live-and-let-live relationship with the forestland denizens of northern Maine. I just wish the dogs would get on board.

Because, let’s face, what’s more fun than arriving home to a welcome reception from two happy, excited and thoroughly skunk-drenched canines?

Frankly, just about anything.

It’s a funny thing about skunk scent — you would think something that noxious and powerful would be instantly noticeable.

But it has been my experience over the years that the full-scale olfactory assault begins a split second after the offending dog has either brushed up against a person, jumped inside a vehicle or managed to gain access to the house and furniture.

In other words, too late to mount a rapid counterdefense.

Luckily, past experiences also have prepared me to deal with the subsequent odiferous situation in a reasonably effective manner.

First step — banish the dogs to the great outdoors, paying no attention to pleading looks or sad eyes.

The next step is thanks to my friend Kristine down in New Sweden, who years ago passed along what I consider to be the gold standard for a homemade de-skunking concoction.

To wit — gather together a quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, one-quarter cup baking soda, and one or two teaspoons Dawn dish detergent. Then mix the ingredients in a bucket with enough water to form a sort of fizzy paste.

This probably would have gone a lot better had there not been a hole in the bottom of the bucket, something I failed to notice until two-thirds of the mixture had leaked all over the kitchen floor.

Next comes the really fun part, convincing the dog — who in no way finds his or her own smell offensive — that taking a peroxide-baking soda bath is fun.

But speed in this case really is of the essence.

According to the website www.dogbreedinfo.com, the sulphuric skunk spray — known as mercaptan — can remain detectable in the dog’s fur for up to two years.

It can also be more serious than just the nuisance of the smell.

If the mercaptan hits the dog in its eyes it can be blinded for up to two days. It is definitely one heck of a defense mechanism.

The site further recommends changing into old clothes and using gloves before bathing the dog as the oily mercaptan is also difficult to remove from clothing or other fabrics.

It was pretty easy to find the point of contact on Apollo as he had a sticky, oily patch on his neck which was doing a pretty good job of making my eyes water.

It took a bit of convincing, but he finally got into the tub (it was too cold to wash him outside) and sat down while I applied the peroxide paste, working it into his fur for several minutes.

Ideally, the paste should then be allowed to set on the dog for 10 minutes before rinsing, but there was no way Apollo was going to put up with that.

Had it been warmer, I’d have just let him run around outside for the 10 minutes, but as it was I quickly rinsed him off, towel-dried him and hoped for the best.

Miracle of miracles — the smell was gone!

Corky was next and no more pleased than Apollo for her unscheduled spa treatment, but soon she, too, was blessedly odor-free.

The two dogs are now not permitted to venture too far from the house.

As for the skunk — I’m just hoping it has moved on so things can get back to as near normal as they ever get around here.

Until the second sign of spring shows up, that is.

Because, turns out the only thing more fun than skunk-drenched dogs are porcupine-quilled dogs.

The needle-nose pliers are standing by.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She may be reached at jbaylybdn@gmail.com.

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