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Smelly Houseguest

>> Saturday, February 13, 2010

I mentioned back in the fall that we have a skunk living in the crawl space under our dining room.  His name is Pierre.  We were too lazy to remove Pierre last summer, and then it got to the point where we felt too guilty to remove him because we didn't know if he'd be able to find another warm spot to spend the cold winter months.  We figured he'd sleep most of the winter, anyway, so what would be the harm in leaving him there until spring?

It turns out February is the harm.  Mating season has begun.  And peeeeee-u!  A smelly season it is.

I cannot seem to find a good book about skunks, so am going off observation, a PBS Nature show on skunks, and what little good info I've been able to scavenge out of encyclopedic books about mammals.  Anyone have any good skunk books to recommend?  I do happen to think they're quite fascinating critters.  Random facts about striped skunks that I have stumbled upon: they like to eat honey bees (no idea how they deal with the stingers in their tongues), and they are mighty good at killing snakes, even poisonous ones.  I also happen to think they are both handsome and comically lumbering.  Oh, and they love the cat food our misguided neighbor puts out for the local feral cat population.

Skunks don't really hibernate.  They take nice long naps, and their heart and breathing rates can drop a bit, but they get up and about fairly frequently in search of munchies.  This has been evidenced all winter by the footprints leading in and out of the opening to Pierre's snug little den.

Reports seem to vary on whether they sleep alone or in cozy piles, and with our skunk we have no proof one way or another.  However, based on the number of prints out there and their consistent size, I think Pierre might be sleeping alone.  Some reports say the females sleep in groups and males overwinter alone, which might indicate Pierre really is a he.  It's hard to say.

Our only problem with Pierre through the winter may not really be attributable to him, and may just be a coincidence.  We suspect he may have fleas, since we've had to keep flea treatments on the pets right through the winter, which I've never had to do before.  Usually the fleas die off in the winter, and we get a break in having to keep the flea treatments on the kids.  Financially, that's a bonus.  Flea meds from the vet cost a boatload for 2 dogs and 3 cats.  But this year, fleas have remained in the house right through this winter, despite the monthly flea treatments.  Perhaps we could get rid of the fleas if I could put Advantage on the skunk, but I'm just not that adventuresome.

Regardless, we had no stink trouble until about a week and a half ago.  Pierre was his usual mild-mannered, flea-ridden house guest with stripes.  No stinking.

Then mating season began.

Several nights a week now, we awaken around 2 a.m. gasping for air.  We open windows, we turn on fans, we light incense offerings to the scent gods, and groggily laugh through the gasping because we're completely overtired and slap-happy.  The poor dogs sneeze repeatedly, and when you're a Basset hound with super short legs, sneezing creates the unfortunate hazard of slamming one's nose into the floor.  Yet another Basset hound design flaw.

I admit the nighttime ritual is losing its charm through repetition.  It takes 24 hours for the smell to diminish to a comfortable level, and it never seems to dissipate completely.  The dining room, directly over where he's sleeping, retains a perpetual faint skunk odor.  The little guy is just constantly emanating a noxious, nose searing stench.

I have two guesses as to why he stinks so much lately.  I've read conflicting reports on this issue, and don't know if either report is correct.  One version of the story is that amorous males often wind up getting sprayed by any females who just aren't into him.  Scent glands = convenient loser guy repellent.  The other version of the story is that males just get wicked jumpy this time of year and spray everything in sight.  If that's the case, perhaps some droplets are landing on his own fur.  I'm not sure which it is, but I can personally attest that there is a lot of spraying going on.

I can also attest that he has got to go.

So the question is, how early is too early to remove our fine stripy friend?  I don't want to displace the little booger when it's so cold out he'll freeze to death for lack of a den in which to sleep.  I also don't want to wait too late, and run the risk that he is a she and will have a bunch of kits stuffed under our dining room, too.  Baby skunks are impossibly cute, with little beady black eyes and velvety black little noses and hands, but they grow up to be just as stinky as their parents.

I'm thinking lease termination in late March, perhaps?  With a roughly 66 day gestation and mating starting in February, I'm thinking late April is a possibility for kits, so we need to evict Pierre long before then, just in case.

The next question, of course, is just HOW to get rid of him.  I've heard the rumor skunks don't take to music with a lot of bass.  So I'm thinking some Metallica to encourage him to leave, and a whole lot of chicken wire to encourage him to stay out.  Anyone else have brilliant skunk evicting inspiration??


Holly February 13, 2010 at 12:32 PM  

Take rags, douse them in vinegar, and place in and near the skunk's residence. This is how we evicted the skunk who decided our shed was a great place to live.

The irony is, skunks don't enjoy that stinky smell.

Anonymous February 13, 2010 at 2:43 PM  

Try this: Go on the internet, find a site that has Coyote calls, record them and play them back under the dining room for a while.
If the skunk still won't leave, the sound of the police sirens and all the flashing lights that result from angry neighbors' 911 calls might do the trick.

Woodswalker February 13, 2010 at 4:41 PM  

I'm glad that you have such a kind heart toward animals many folks have no use for. But I sympathize with your plight. I've heard of services that specialize in nuisance animal removal, but I would be afraid they would probably kill the skunk.

Woodswoman Extraordinaire February 14, 2010 at 9:34 AM  

Great suggestions, guys, thanks! I think this fellow shall be assaulted by vinegar, coyotes and bass music all at once. No idea if coyote calls will have any impact on a skunk, but it scared the pants off my dogs. Can we really wait until the end of next month? The frequency of smelly nights is increasing, I swear!

Ellen Rathbone February 16, 2010 at 2:26 PM  

I so enjoyed reading this...and picturing your poor pooches sneezing. I laughed outloud here in the library!

Chances are that since skunks are a rabies vector species, if you do get a nuisance WL removal person in, the animal will be terminated. I believe, but I could be wrong, that it is technically illegal these days to trap and relocate wildlife, especially rabies vector species.

Keep us posted on your vinegar/coyote/bass success! Maybe you can write the definitive paper on skunk discouragement practices in the end!

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