Another dog-skunk encounter

When I open the door they go racing out, sometimes into the yard where I can see them, sometimes around the house. This evening they went around the house. But they returned, just seconds later, and one of them reeked. In those seconds they had been out of my sight one had gotten too close to a skunk.

How close to a skunk is too close?

I don’t know from personal experience. I’ve never been sprayed nor have I ever seen one of our dogs get sprayed, or any other animal. I’ve read it’s ten or twelve feet. I’ve had people who have been sprayed claim it’s considerably farther.

I’ve also read that the spray is a couple drops of liquid emitted from two glands near the base of a skunk’s tail, atomized as it is ejected. I’ve heard that disputed, too. A friend who surprised a skunk in his garage said “the little bastard turned its rear toward me, raised its tail and sprayed at least half a cup from a dozen jets. The stuff filled the whole garage.”

Everybody in southern Canada and the U.S. south of Canada and in northern Mexico must know what a skunk is. It’s the little black and white wood pussy, as it is sometimes called, with the white stripe down its face, white on its head, white stripes down its back and the sides of its tail and a white tip to its bushy tail. It’s widespread and fairly common though not as numerous, fortunately I’d say, as rabbits or squirrels or even raccoons.

Skunks forage at night though sometimes one is seen wandering around during the day. They don’t hibernate but in winter they hole up, literally, staying for days when the weather is bad in a hole in the ground, a crevice among rocks, a hollow beneath a tree stump or a barn or shed. A few days of warmer weather, however, and they’ll come out and wander around, leaving tracks in the snow if there is any.

Skunks eat mice and rats, grasshoppers, beetles and other insects. They eat eggs of ground nesting birds and, unfortunately, chickens when they can get them. They eat birds, including young chicks, when they can catch them. They eat corn, pulling down stalks and taking it “on the cob.” They rummage through garbage. They eat bird seed, I have learned.

Most predators leave skunks alone. Some predators are taught by their parents as they are learning to hunt, I assume, and some undoubtedly learn the hard way. If only our dogs would learn. Maybe one has.  The recent incident was the fourth in the past few weeks and only one dog got sprayed. Maybe that one never will learn; maybe she regards the smell as the naturalist John Burroughs described it, “tonic and bracing.” I don’t, and the dog got a bath as soon as we came back in the house. I scrubbed her with an odor removing dog shampoo.

There is one predator that is undeterred by the odor and that’s a great horned owl. They seem oblivious to the smell. I’ve found great horned owls by smelling the odor of skunk, looking for the little critter and instead of finding a skunk, finding a great horned owl smelling strongly of eau de skunk and showing no sign of being irritated by it.

The night after our latest dog-skunk incident I shined a flashlight beam out and there was a skunk under one of our bird feeders. That night the dogs were leashed when we went out and we stayed away from the bird feeders.

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