warning: contains graphic malodorous descriptions . . .

I’ve been downwind of decaying sea lions on the beach. Reluctantly squatted in a never-cleaned outhouse next to a broken sewer pipe off a trail near Highway 1. Sweated in hot kitchens with rancid grease traps. Changed dirty diapers, thousands of them. Chaperoned cars full of gaseous elementary school boys on field trips. But there really is nothing – nothing – that could have prepared me for the nauseating odor cloud of full-frontal skunk assault – the noxious, heavy, oily, earthy cloud that floated from the back deck, where the puppy was skunked, to the living room, hanging there for a while before slowly drifting through the house, dripping tiny molecules of stench like a fine mist on every surface, thin tendrils of odor sneaking under closet doors, blanketing towels and rugs, lingering. Just like Wilfred said to Ryan, “There are particles. And they linger.”

It was 3AM Saturday when the puppy barked from his crate in Kid Two’s room. I heard the bedroom door open, then the back door open, then the 10-pound pup barking in the ferocious way I’ve only seen him try out on the neighborhood cats. I jumped out of bed to help, but the stench hit me by the time I got to the bottom of the staircase. “Koa got sprayed by a skunk and it smells really bad,” explained Kid One as he passed me in the hall. Really bad. LL said he’s been in latrines in the jungles of Southeast Asia that didn’t smell this bad.

Before I go on, you need to know now that the pup is fine. He was really upset that night, though; the boys saw him foaming at the mouth after he was fully sprayed on his face and neck. And the next morning I had to coax him out of his crate and carry him outside to do his business, and he trembled in my arms all the way. I have a sneaking suspicion that he knows how bad he smells – how could he not? – although he does love rolling in dead seagulls lightly covered with sand, so maybe not. Important thing is he’s perky and eating and bouncing around the beach again, nibbling on sand crabs.

I’m a little more traumatized. I’ve spent the past three days laundering every cloth item in the house. Simmering cloves and cinnamon for hours on the stove. Spraying straight white vinegar in to the air with reckless abandon. But I still stepped out of the enclosed shower this morning and was hit with a subtle eau de skunk. Particles. Lingering.

It’s actually not at all improbable this would have happened. Skunks amble down the side of the road at twilight, disappearing into storm drains or under a neighbor’s deck. I’ve smelled them for the twenty years we’ve lived in this house; at the time, thinking the odor wasn’t nearly as bad as people always said. I’ve learned those sprays were not so near; humans can detect skunk odor up to a mile away. Last year at this time I even got these blurry photos of two baby skunks frolicking in our yard at midnight. They were really very cute:

So what are we going to do? No offensive tactics; it IS their neighborhood, too.  But we ARE going on the defensive; now there’s a little floodlight in Koa’s floral-groundcover potty bed, just where he got skunked at the dark side of the house. Fifty watts lighting way should be enough to keep the critters away and make the back safe for the pup to do his doggy business. IF I ever let him out again in the middle of the night.

I did finish the weekend with a new recipe; here is our vet’s prescription for a skunk bath. Koa has had two per day and smells slightly better every time. Just mix a gallon of warm water with 2 ounces hydrogen peroxide, 2 tablespoons baking soda, and 2 tablespoons Ivory soap. We pour it over him in the tub, using a washcloth on his face so it doesn’t get in his eyes or nose. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Then repeat again. And again. And again. Remember, there are particles. And they linger.

My eight-year-old nephew set me straight about the rumored effectiveness of tomato juice to get rid of skunk spray. “Aunt Maggie, what does v-o-d-k-a spell?” he asked over the phone, reading from his father’s iPad. “Vodka,” I responded simply. “Okay. Well then, it says here that you should just save that tomato juice and mix it with some vodka. Then take yourself outside for a long, long walk.” From the mouths of babes.

One scientist wondered, as scientists do, what the World’s Worst Smell actually is. Click here to find out – go ahead, you know you want to know.