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The skunkening: Welcome to the neighborhood

August 26, 2013 Updated: August 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm
photo - Striped Skunk - Mephitis mephitis in front of a white background
Striped Skunk - Mephitis mephitis in front of a white background 

ww, that smell: a vile, acrid cocktail of cayenne pepper, burning rubber, mothballs and pure sensory evil. It means a skunk has died or been made generally unhappy here.

And when a skunk's unhappy, everybody's unhappy.

I know this because my 3-year-old dog, Stone, knows this. Or he did, for a brief and awful moment in mid-July, before the magnanimous Labrador in his DNA kicked in and he got back to adoring everything in the universe - including the skunk that had just sprayed him.

Skunk stink is the napalm of bad smells.

"One of the reasons it sticks to the dog is because the skunk has oils," says Darlene Kelley, owner of Old Town Pet Salon & Barkery near Old Colorado City. "Since it's oil based, it really seeps down into their pores and their skin, as well as sitting on their fur."

In the past few months, Kelley has seen an increase in the number of pups coming in for a special de-stinking wash. How intensive the washing must be depends on where the dog got hit, she says.

"When they get it in the face, it's hard to get it off because it's closer to the skin," Kelley says. "Plus, there aren't too many products that are safe to use in that area."

Stone, of course, got it point blank in the face. He got hit again four days later.

I didn't realize how much wildlife was squatting at my home and in my overgrown yard when I moved into my house on the west side. The place had been left fallow for the better part of a year, and, understandably, the critters came to party. Tenants included a horde of feral cats and a family of about a dozen raccoons that still hang out in the neighbor's tree and on her roof, clicking, hissing and bickering all night like cute velociraptors.

As cool as they are from a distance, with their stubby-legged waddle and Bride of Frankenstein fur, the skunks turned out to be the worst, though. Even at a distance, you're not safe from a skunk.

Rabies is one concern

My guess as to what's going on? A skunk family has set up semi-permanent residence nearby, because there's an easy food source. Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton says that calls from residents who've had sightings, and are worried that populations are on the rise, often come from neighborhoods that are unwittingly advertising for unwanted guests.

"Instead of this being a population dynamic, it's something going on in that area that leads to these situations. Someone may be leaving food out, intentionally or unintentionally," Hampton says. "Skunks will pass through neighborhoods and keep going, but it's when you start to develop a skunk every night or a skunk every couple of nights, something else is contributing."

Hampton's neighborhood never had a skunk problem until recently. His own dog has been sprayed twice, in separate confrontations.

"I started having to look around and say, 'What's the change, what's the issue?'" he says.

The house next to him had slipped into foreclosure and was vacant. The yard - once patrolled by the previous owner's three dogs - had become overgrown.

"Now, it's this big weedy yard that's prime space for critters to hang out in. Animals love that," Hampton says. "If you were a wild critter and could live in a place where you had cover and food delivery, why wouldn't you?"

Skunks will cull from garbage cans, too. "Skunks, they're very adaptable and they're omnivorous. They're going to eat anything they can find."

Typically nocturnal, skunks who wander out in daylight may be carriers of diseases such as rabies.

"The bigger concern isn't so much if the dog gets sprayed," Hampton says, "but if it gets bitten or scratched, since with wild animals like skunks there are disease issues."

The fixes

Not to say that the stink isn't a big issue - for dog, man and home.

Skunk spray contains sulfurous compounds called thiols, to which the human nose is particularly sensitive, even in miniscule quantities. The same chemicals are also found in feces and rotting flesh.

"There are a number of things out there that purport to deal with the skunk odor issue, and you can mask it a bit so your dog will smell like flowery skunk, but nothing is foolproof," Hampton says.

Tomato juice bath? Bogus, says Hampton.

"Instead of smelling like flowery skunk, your dog will smell like tomatoey skunk and be red," he says. "What would you do if your dog was covered in motor oil? You've got to be very cautious, though. There are things that will take oil out, but you don't want to do damage to your dog."

Dog groomer Kelley suggests dog owners keep their pets as dry as possible after a skunking.

"If they get damp or wet, that can bring that stink back," she says. "The longer that you wait (before a deep cleaning), the more that scent is going to be set in and it's harder to get out."

Kelley agreed that the tomato juice remedy is a waste of time and money.

As for ridding your property of the creatures for the long haul, that might be a bigger issue, requiring more community legwork. But if the NIMBY approach works for your situation, there are a few tactics that should help the colony get moving, Hampton says.

For starters, take the fight to them.

"Find out where they're living. They burrow under sheds, porches, things like that. Anything they can get kind of under and build a house," he says. Wait til night, when the skunks are away, and block off the holes. "That will encourage them to move on."

A funny thing about skunks: They don't like how they smell, either.

"Skunks use spray as a protection. They don't like it. So, if you know you're dealing with a nocturnal issue, and you're going to put your dog out, put the porch light on, make some noise, the skunk will generally move along," Hampton says. "It doesn't want to have to spray you."

If you chose to trap a skunk, be prepared: It's illegal to relocate them, Hampton says.

"A landowner in Colorado has the ability to live trap a skunk, but the problem is you cannot relocate a skunk because of disease issues," he says. "So if you go the route of buying a trap and trapping a skunk, you have to put the skunk down or release it on site. You can't take it to somebody else's neighborhood or release it in the woods."

While it's no panacea, when it comes to battling skunk stink, Hampton suggests a mixture of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and dish soap, a concoction invented in the 1990s by Illinois chemist Paul Krebaum for a friend whose cat had been sprayed by a skunk. Twenty years later, that recipe remains the gold standard for de-stinking. The remedy - which can be used on pets and surfaces - has even been vetted by the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters crew.

I had Stone professionally bathed and used the peroxide concoction on my floors. It took a few washings, because after two days the smell had set in, but it worked. A month has passed and my lawn is now full of dogs and bereft of weedy critter hiding spots. The air's had time to clear.

I still sometimes catch whiffs of awfulness wafting in through the window at night, shrapnel from someone else's unfortunate encounter.

Stone smells it too. He runs to the door, tail wagging, begging to be let out.


Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364

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