The Skunk

I’ve gotten some interesting feedback on my most recent column. It seems there are quite a few of us who enjoy sleeping al fresco, and the practice isn’t confined to dogs of a certain age. It makes sense, if you think about it. Our ancestors lived outdoors. They played, hunted, ate and slept there and were none the worse for the experience. If it was cold they had fur and each other to keep warm. If it was hot, where but under the stars were they likely to get any relief? It wasn’t until people came along that the idea of dogs sleeping indoors became popular. Popular with people. I’m pretty sure no one asked us.

The Doc’s ancestors probably lived outdoors, too, but only if there was no other choice. People as a rule don’t do well outdoors. They aren’t built for it. That’s why when you find one who is he becomes a folk hero, like Daniel Boone, or Jeremiah Johnson, or Ace, the guy who hangs out in the canyon where we live. Everybody knows him. They give him money, he gets free food from the restaurants. People say he’s ‘homeless’ and they feel bad for him but I think that’s partly because they can’t imagine why anyone would live outdoors if they had a choice. Some would.

I’ve seen a few nature shows, and once in a while I’ll catch the Doc watching something educational that doesn’t involve cooking, and it seems people have always wanted to be inside. Whether it was a cave, a tent, a shack, or a mansion they always needed to be inside something. The bigger and fancier that something was, the better. They even build houses for us. We don’t need them, but I’ll admit that over the centuries we’ve gotten used to the idea of being warm and dry without having to sleep in a pile of our relatives.

But there was an even larger howl about something else mentioned in that column—the skunk. I can’t say I’d forgotten about The Incident, but I’d put it far enough back in my mind that it might have stayed there permanently had the Doc not brought it up. A lot of my readers had the same reaction, a lot of repressed memories were suddenly forced to the surface. Because I feel somehow responsible for all this psychic pain, I will relive my own experience in the hope it will put theirs into some perspective, and easier to once again forget.

It was a while ago, I’m not sure how long, exactly, but I was pretty young and hadn’t been living with the folks for more than maybe a couple of years. The Doc and I are morning types, so we tend to hit the sack pretty early. This means that at some point in the middle of the night I’m going to need a potty break. Up the stairs, through the kitchen, out the doggie door, down the stairs, do my business, and then the whole process in reverse and back to bed. All this while I’m pretty much half asleep.

On this particular night everything went as usual, until I got to the bottom of the stairs behind the kitchen. From there to the yard you have to make a sharp right turn down this little path. I had no sooner done this than I ran into something I’d never seen. It was about the size of a medium raccoon, which I can recognize because they are all over the place, but it was black with a couple of white stripes down its back and a bushy tail. Sort of handsome, actually.

We’d surprised each other on the path, him going up, me going down. Not much room to get around one another, and nowhere for him to run if I decided I was in the mood for a little hunting. Which, at the moment, I wasn’t. He either misread my intentions or figured it would be best not to take any chances.

Right away he bends over and sticks out his butt. How rude! I started reconsidering my options but not fast enough. Before I could react he sprayed me. Right in the face. It was so disgusting and I was so shocked I just stood there, motionless, speechless. He turned and ran. I didn’t even try to chase him. I was mortified.

I had no idea what to do so I decided to go back into the house. When I got to our room the lights were on and the folks were wide awake. They took one look and “Oh, Kaya,” is all either of them was able to say. The Doc took charge. He walked me into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and in we went. I suppose it made some sense at the time, you know, try to wash the skunk spray off me, get rid of the stink. But all it managed to do was turn the spray into some kind of vapor. So now I not only had it on me, I had it in me. The Doc, too, because he started coughing and swearing. He swears a lot anyway, mostly for fun, but this was serious.

The next morning at the park the skunk was all anyone could talk about. The attack had apparently woken up almost the entire neighborhood. No one knew, until I showed up, where ground zero was. I got a fair amount of sympathy. From a distance.

Over the course of the next week I got a couple more baths and a visit from the groomer. Things improved, but it took weeks for the smell to fade completely. Which brings me back to sleeping outside. A few days after the Doc did his research and figured my camping out was a harmless diversion, he started locking me in.

“Excuse me?”

“I smelled skunk last night. We’re not going through that again. Besides, the neighbor saw a giant raccoon in her yard, and this morning when I left for work there was a coyote trotting down the street. I don’t want you picking fights with anybody. You’re safer indoors.”

“I don’t pick fights. I just don’t back down from one.”

“Fine. Whatever. Let me know if you need to go potty.”

Count on it. Let’s see how long this lasts.


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