We share our urban yard with a variety of wild animals -- opossums, squirrels, rabbits and the occasional raccoon.
Two days ago, I sat in the car and watched as a young coyote made his way across the street in front of me. With the occasional warm days we've been having, the wild animals seem to be on the move, including the skunks who are living under my neighbor's deck several doors down.
"Skunks are gentle, nonaggressive creatures who have wrongly earned a bad reputation because of that pungent odor," notes Laura Simon, field director of urban wildlife programs for the HSUS.
"People don't appreciate the benefits they provide by eating grubs, insects, mice and baby rats."
Simon describes skunks as being cat-sized or smaller and solitary animals, who are extremely nearsighted, with a very fine-tuned sense of smell. They often live in urban areas, with home ranges that encompass a few hundred acres at most.
Skunks den in natural cavities like woodchuck burrows, hollow logs, brush piles, crevices in stone walls and under buildings. And because skunks are nomadic in nature, using their dens for only brief periods of time, living under your shed, porch or outbuilding will resolve itself in due time. They'll just move on.
A skunk's only defense (they do also have sharp claws and teeth) is the noxious odor created by a sulfuric acid that can be "fired" from either of two independently operating anal glands.
"People do not realize how difficult it is to get sprayed by a skunk since these animals give a warning when alarmed by stamping their front feet. If you take heed of that warning, they won't spray. Dogs ignore this warning, which is why they do get sprayed," Simon said. "That's why it's hard to find a human who has been sprayed, but easy to find a dog who has."
The AKC (Fetch Magazine, 8/2009) and HSUS explain what to do if your dog's curiosity results in "an adventure" with a skunk.
The most important thing to do if your dog gets sprayed is check his eyes, nose and mouth. If he was sprayed in the face, which is exactly where skunks tend to aim, the chemicals in the spray could cause irritation and inflammation, even inflaming the lining of the throat and lungs if inhaled.
To reduce the irritation, rinse your pet's eyes, nose and mouth with plenty of water. If, after rinsing, his eyes look red or he rubs at his face, he should be seen by a veterinarian.
If your pet's eyes, nose and mouth check out OK, the next step is getting rid of the smell. Home remedies include soaking in tomato juice, which reduces the odor somewhat. Another reported deodorant recipe is the following mixture:
• 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (available at your local pharmacy)
• ¼ cup baking soda
• 1 teaspoon Dawn (registered trademark) liquid dish soap
Wearing rubber gloves, wash your dog with this solution immediately after he's been sprayed. Do not get the solution in your dog's eyes. (If you don't have peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap on hand, use vinegar diluted with water).
A cautionary note: Do not save this mixture or make it ahead of time, as the mixture could explode if left in a bottle.
After thoroughly soaking your dog in the mixture and rubbing it through his fur, rinse him with clean tap water. Don't leave the mixture on him too long as peroxide can bleach his fur.
The next step is to wash your dog with pet shampoo and rinse thoroughly. You may have to shampoo him twice. By now, your dog should be de-skunked. Towel dry him thoroughly and place him in a warm room so he doesn't get chilled.
There are also commercial shampoos and sprays formulated to neutralize the skunk smell, which are available from your veterinarian and at most pet supply stores.
If you get some of the skunk smell on your clothing, you can get rid of the smell by using regular laundry detergent mixed with a half-cup of baking soda.
With more warm weather coming, skunks living so close to us, and having a big dog who loves to be outside, I think it's a good idea for me to keep those three ingredients on hand.
Speaking of animals, the Easter Bunny will be at The Buddy Foundation Shelter for photos with the Easter Bunny from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, April 12. Bring your pets and children to 65 W. Seegers Road, in Arlington Heights, and join the fun. There will be raffles, an egg hunt, bake sale and adoptions. Cost is a $7.50 donation per picture printed.
• For information, call The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806 or visit www.thebuddyfoundation.org.