By Tom Browe
When most people see a skunk they tend to over react. Have you ever met a person that was directly sprayed by a skunk? Skunks do not spray unless they feel threatened with immediate harm. They’ll give a lot of warning first, because they don’t want to shoot if they don’t have to. It takes them time to produce more protective “spray.”
In answer to the question above; if you’ve met me, you have met someone who has been sprayed by a skunk. I was 5 at the time, and the skunk was my pet, Jimmy. (Of course, we should not have had him) Long story short, he had full use of his natural defenses. The German shepherd running up behind me caused Jimmy alarm, and he shot. I was in the middle, as usual my mouth was open, and I took a direct hit.
That was 59 years ago. I still fondly remember Jimmy and still salivate at the smell of skunk. Not from desire for the taste! Rather to get rid of it. I nearly died because I could not breathe, but a panicked mother and neighbor worked until I could breathe again. Unfortunately, Jimmy went away, causing me many tears. It wasn’t his fault. All these years later I still have an affinity for skunks! They are gentle creatures, wishing harm to no one but bugs and larvae.
When I first began working at Rutland County Humane Society back in the 70’s I frequently helped people with skunk problems. For a few years I trapped and relocated 20-30 skunks a year. Now this is illegal due to the rabies issue. Dealing with all those black and white critters left me unscathed by any of them. I trapped them and carried the traps to my truck waiting to be “scented”. But it never happened.
One time I hand-removed 5 baby skunks from a cellar window well. Baby skunks can and will shoot; often faster than older and wiser ones. Moving slowly, talking soothingly (more for me than them), I coaxed them all into a paper grocery bag and then took them a few feet away and released them. They scampered off into the tall grass never to be seen again. Skunks are wanderers and normally do not set up permanent territories.
Another time, I was called to remove a skunk from a pit near the Howe Scale Plant in Rutland. The planks covering the pit had been knocked into the hole and the skunk fell in. The pit was about 6 feet deep and 3 ft. by 3 ft.. No way was I going to climb down a ladder in that small an area. I was not afraid of the skunk, but there may have been a snake down there!
So I took a snare pole, used for handling dangerous dogs, leaned down into the hole with another person holding my legs, and snared each of the planks one by one so I could get at the skunk. All this time the animal observed the activity and moved about, but never once showed any warning signs of imminent “sprayage”.
All the time I was at this task I kept wondering where I could go afterward, because I could not get into my truck smelling all skunky! Finally all of the planks were removed, leaving just the skunk to raise 6 feet to the surface. I learned one new fact that day. Skunks are wedge shaped. I’d finally get the loop around the front of the skunk and began to lift, and it would slip out. After three attempts at this, and holding my breath with blood filling my head and pulsing in my ears, I had had enough. I slipped the loop behind the back legs and pulled it tight, hoping it wasn’t too tight to squeeze the scent gland!
Wiggling backwards I lifted myself, the pole, and the skunk out of the pit. The skunk had made its exit in a less than glamorous manner, butt upward. I slowly set the critter down 3 short feet away from me (the length of the pole) and gently released the loop. All the while I held my breath with my mouth shut, because I remembered that direct hit, all those years ago.
The adult skunk turned to face me and blinked its nearsighted eyes, trying to focus on me. I began my soft babbling again, hoping to convey my lack of threat. The skunk turned around, at which point I shut up and held my breath again! It waddled a few feet away, turned around and looked back, and then left the scene quietly.
The man who had helped by holding my legs stood there amazed. “That skunk just thanked you!” he said. I looked at him and said, “Yes, I believe you are right.”
So, if you are confronted by a skunk, stand quietly and allow them to assess your threat level. Usually they’ll just waddle off to tend to their own business. If you startle one, you may then know someone else, who has been sprayed by a skunk!
Tom Browe is the Executive Director of the Springfield Humane Society. http://spfldhumane.org/