Note: This is the seventh and final story in a series of super-short stories about animals.
A skunk sauntered by our door, stopped to look in, and continued on its way. We’ve had lots of different animals peek inside our home from our deck: raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and neighborhood cats. We’ve had foxes and, one time in broad daylight, a wounded coyote sitting in our backyard. (I correct myself from yesterday’s story: I did invite a friendly police officer to my front door, this time for the coyote. He came into our house with a shotgun to get a view of the coyote. Fortunately, he decided to chase it from our yard and not shoot it.)
But the skunk put the whole family on high alert. “Nobody move,” I whispered through gritted teeth. We let that little guy wander off unmolested.
Over the last several years, the skunk population has increased in the Great Midwest, and you don’t have to be a wildlife biologist to realize that. Just open your windows on a summer evening and you might get a whiff of that distinctive skunky smell. (Unless you live next to potheads; then it might be something else you’re smelling.)
Last summer, though, we got skunked so far beyond what we had experienced for a few days, I was thinking the skunk was purposely targeting our house. I’d walk around in the daytime, looking but hoping not to run into the critter.
My lovely wife Jen likes to keep the windows open instead of the AC on, so we’ve been on alert for skunks for a long time. That first night our yard got skunked, I ran around and closed all the windows at about 2 a.m. By the morning, the smell had mostly dissipated.
The next night, we got skunked again. Dang it! Something in the yard was frightening the little guy. Same routine: close the windows in the middle of the night, let the smell go away during the day, open the windows before bed.
By Day 3, no one in the family was happy, and the smell was stronger. Plus, I was a little cranky from sleeping with one eye (and one nostril) open, ready to activate the lockdown when needed.
I don’t know how to describe how bad the smell was. You’re probably thinking that you know how a skunk smells, but this was worse. It smelled like the foulest food smells (rotting onions, rotten eggs), rotting garbage, combined with the skunk smell; it was so rancid. It would actually irritate our nasal passages, and I would tear up. All night and then all day; this one didn’t dissipate. It got into our family room, and no one wanted to be in that part of the house anymore.
Jen said, “Have you found where the skunk is living? Maybe we need to call someone to have it removed.”
“I looked. I can’t tell. Hopefully it will go away.”
It didn’t go away. Jen was in the basement for something, and she glanced out the window and spotted it: the telltale black and white fur, sitting in our window well. She came upstairs and told me. She said, “How many times have I told you to get covers for the window wells?”
We don’t need to rehash how many times she did or did not tell me to get window well covers. I’ve had to rescue a few kittens and other small animals from the window wells, and my children loved hunting for toads in the wells. We had butterfly nets just to get the toads out. One of the wells is about 2 feet deep, and the other is deeper, about 3 1/2 feet.
(In my defense, about 10 years ago, I did buy cheap plastic well covers, but I didn’t secure them, and they blew away in a windstorm. Like, just blew away. Somewhere. I’m imagining someone 3 or 4 blocks from us finding these things in her backyard: “What the hell?”)
The skunk was in the deeper window well. Naturally. Jen said, “How are you going to get it out?” When I rescued the kittens, I stacked some crates for them to climb up. I said, “I don’t wan’t to scare it.” “Maybe you should poke it with a rake handle and run.” “Do I have to?” “Yes, you have to.” Etc.
So I went out there with a long garden tool handle, poked it, and ran. After a little time (about 4 hours), I looked back in. “I think it’s dead,” I told Jen. “Then I think you have to remove the body.” “Do I have to?” Etc.
I knew just the person to help me with this problem.
“Randy!” I was knocking on my handy neighbor’s back door. He answered cheerily and put his dog on a leash to come over, not knowing what I was about to subject him to.
We both peered over the edge of the window well. “Huh,” he said. “That really is a dead skunk.” His dog stretched the leash out as far away from the well as he could.
“What do you think we should do?” I asked.
“Well, I think you should scoop the body up, put it in a bag and dispose of it off your property, and then there are chemical cleaners that get rid of smells like that.”
I said, “And when you say ‘you,’ you mean…”
“I mean you. There is no way I’m coming close to that thing. You’re on your own with this one.” And he and his dog left me.
Dang it. So I turned to Google. Turns out that when skunks die, they release all of the chemicals contained in their glands, and this can take up to 2 weeks, and then the smell can linger for more than a month after that. And everyone knows that you don’t want to get the chemical on your skin or hair because it’s difficult to get rid of.
The first thing I tried to do was take two hoes and slide them under the skunk body and lift it out of the well. The problem was, apparently the skunk had burrowed its nose into the corner of the well (probably out of panic), trapping itself between the home’s foundation and the corrugated-metal well. Jen came out to give it a try. She pulled on the skunk, and its tail removed itself from the rest of the body. (Ugh.) I picked it up out of the well and put it in a garbage bag. I suited up with clothes I didn’t care about and gloves, then I dropped into the well. I had to scoop the rest of the body out of the corner. The smell got worse.
Then I read that you have to remove the debris that the body was touching to get rid of the smell. So I scraped out a ton of rocks and put them in the garbage bag.
Also, what Randy told me was true: deposit the dead body off your property, or it will continue its foul ways. Since garbage pickup was 4 days away, I decided to take the bag to the dumpster at Jen’s office. I didn’t want to put the bag in any of our vehicles, so I got my bike out and tried to pedal over there.
Have you ever tried pedaling a bicycle with a black plastic garbage bag filled with 30 pounds of rocks? Not easy. The bag got caught in the spokes of my front wheel, so I abandoned that plan.
I hiked down the street for a half mile, in full sun, on an 85-degree day, wearing gloves, a long flannel shirt, and jeans, with a 30-pound black garbage bag over my shoulder. The world’s worst Santa Claus.
Halfway there, a friend spotted me and pulled over. She rolled down her window: “Looks heavy. Can I offer you a ride somewhere?” I didn’t know how to explain exactly what was going on with what clearly looked like a crime scene coverup, so I just said, “No thanks, you don’t want to get involved with this one.” She gave me a funny look and drove off.
I tried to fix the smell by spraying this deodorant spray all over the carpet of the family room, but then the house smelled like the fake chemical smell and the skunk smell. No one was happy with me.
I found two things that worked: One was an absorbent spray that I soaked the window well with. I used a rag to rub and scrub all the metal, the cement, and the window itself. That seemed to help. But the thing that saved us on the inside of the house was this stuff called Fresh Wave Odor Removing Gel. It claimed that the gel could absorb the smell and release a fresh eucalyptus scent using all-natural ingredients, but at that point I didn’t care if it was radioactive as long as it got the job done.
The skunk smell lingered in the house for a month. I remember thinking about 3 weeks into it, “Is this ever going to go away?” But it did.
Almost immediately afterwards, I bought high-quality window well covers and secured them in place. See, I told Jen I’d get to it eventually.