Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Urban sprawl stinks in California

By Elaine Shein

For many people who want to protect valuable farmland, they declare urban sprawl stinks.

And now it does — literally. An AP story out of California said skunks and people are battling it out when new housing developments go up near cities in San Joaquin County. The Stockton Police department said the skunks are multiplying and continue to live deeper in their burrows. A skunk den can hold up to 75 animals, according to AP.

I can already guess who will win. The skunks.

I recall on our farm how many times our various dogs through the decades took on the skunks, and I can tell you exactly how many times these brave dogs won.


Unfortunately, these skunks would sometimes become a pest with our chicken coop or for sending our dogs into a barking frenzy every night so there were times we needed to take on the skunks. By we, I of course mean my father. The rest of us were supportive, but from a safe distance like say … the house several hundred yards away. Inside the house.

Sometimes when my father left the house with his rifle he wasn’t sure exactly what he would find. Coyotes, foxes, porcupines, skunks … at night, a dog’s bark doesn’t differentiate one from the other.

One day Dad decided to follow the barking dog and we heard the barking for quite a while before finally we heard the gunshot announcing the end. The dog paused — then kept barking, but the tone was a bit different.

We picked up the dog and Dad’s scent long before we saw them slowly enter the yard.

The dog kept running, barking, and occasionally rolling in the grass or using his paws to try to rub out the awful skunk odor.

And my father didn’t seem too happy himself, as he started to peeling off his clothing that had one of the most powerful smells we could come across. Mom quietly went off to find all the big cans of tomato juice she could find in the house. Dad was muttering something about burning his clothes.

We learned valuable lessons from that experience. Even when shooting a skunk, the skunk may get the last parting shot. Tomato juice does NOT get the smell out of clothes or a human body. Fire seemed to be the only remedy that successfully got rid of the skunk odor out of clothes. Dad took several baths that day, even though we lived in a part of the country where water was extremely precious and we were always told to ration our water carefully for baths. It took several days for us to finally declare we could no longer detect the skunk odor on him any more. The light scent of tomato juice still lingered.

To this day, our family has never discussed this experience again. We figured Dad living once through this was cruel enough: we need not bring up the subject again.

We also noticed after that Dad was very careful to stay out of spraying range of skunks.

As did we all — except the dogs. They never learned.

One of my friends once told me the night before her husband Bob was going to take her dog to the vet “to get fixed”, the dog tangled with a skunk and lost. Badly.

“You’re not getting out of this THAT easily,” her husband growled, as he shoved the dog into the half ton truck the next morning and drove several miles to the vet. Windows were rolled down, and the smell was so overpowering that Bob nearly gagged, but he was determined the dog needed to go to the vet.

The veterinarian was not happy about the dog owner’s stubbornness. The larger bill reflected that, but Bob just shrugged. He wasn’t about to raise a stink over it, considering the circumstances.

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