Monday, September 19, 2011
Holding my breath
Some things are inevitable. For example, when I ordered a dinner-sized Mediterranean salad with teeny tiny olives lurking under the lettuce, it was inevitable that I would crack a tooth. And when we lived under an enormous hundred-year oak that tilted protectively toward our house, it was inevitable that hurricane winds would blow it down on the roof. It was also inevitable that the insurance would find a way to screw us (actually two ways). Now that I live in the stunning, best-kept-secret Oakland Hills, it is inevitable that my dog will get royally skunked.
I first became aware of the danger while walking Winston before bed. It gets really dark up here - streetlights are about as rare as Republicans in Berkeley. If there's no moon out, you just stumble through the night until some motion detector flashes its disapproval at you. My dog and I were making our way toward a lamppost 100 yards away when a long black shadow undulated across the illuminated section of road. It moved with the fluidity of an animated ink blot being painted by some unseen hand. Too small to be a cat or a racoon, too big to be a possum, or a rat. Winston barked and lunged and pulled on his leash but I held on tight. The shadowy creature paused, stuck its tail up into the air like an exclamation point and trotted off. A skunk for sure.
Fair game as far as my yorkie is concerned. Rodents are his calling. His ancestors were bred to control the rat population in the Yorkshire coal mines. Small mammals to Yorkshire terriers are like catnip to cats. And Winston is no Paris Hilton purse pet. He's big boned and well fed and perfectly capable of taking on a skunk. Or so he thinks.
Until I moved to the Oakland Hills, I had only had one experience with skunk proliferation, on a hike in Point Reyes. It was a foggy, monochromatic day, but the skunks were in high spirits. Maybe it was mating season. They were leaping vertically out of the brush all around me, their little black and white coats a stark contrast to the drab, dry grasses. I was reminded of one of those kiddy arcade games, where you have to smack down a plastic critter before he retreats into the console and another one pops out. I don't know if the skunk-folk around here wish they were back in the wild, but they seem pretty well-adapted to me. I have yet to walk Winston without running into them. Darting out from under my car, conferring in pairs in the middle of the road, sashaying across the street like they own the neighborhood. Even when they're keeping a low profile, I get olfactory reminders of their presence, a whiff of angry skunk or a blast of dead skunk in the middle of the road.
Anyway, I want to be prepared, so I went down to the local pet supply and asked for emergency deskunking supplies. They were sold out – the entire shelf was empty. The girl at the register told me it's hard to keep up with the demand. At least three skunked dogs are brought in for a bath every week.
Like I said, it's inevitable – Winston is overdue.