Wildlife column: What’s that smell?

By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center

My all-time favorite cartoon character is Pepé LePew (pronounced pā-pā luh pū). For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, Pepé is a French skunk that is in constant pursuit of love but because he doesn’t smell very good, he often comes up short in the love department. If the ladies could just get past his smell, they might find he’s not such a bad guy.

It is true that skunks are the primary carriers of rabies in Texas and it is true that there’s nothing worse than trying to get the odor out when your dog gets sprayed, but skunks do serve a purpose. They are highly beneficial to farmers, landowners and gardeners because they are natural pest control agents. They feed on grasshoppers, grubs, beetles, crickets, mice, rats and moles, and since they are nocturnal, they feed mostly at night.

Skunks are nocturnal, solitary, mild-mannered creatures. As is the case with most wild animals, they just want to be left alone. Skunks spray other animals or humans when they feel threatened and only as a last resort. They will give some warning signals, however, before spraying. It will lower its head, arch its back, and lift its tail, except for the tip, which hangs limp. If the enemy doesn’t get the message, the skunk stomps its front feet and then lifts the tip of the tail and is ready to spray. However, if surprised or threatened, the skunk will spray without warning.

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Their spray can reach up to 10 feet and in addition to the smell, the spray is intensely irritating and can cause temporary blindness. And don’t think you can’t get sprayed unless the rear end is facing you. Skunks can shoot to the right, left, front and back without turning around. If you happen to come across a skunk, the best advice is to stand completely still. Once the animal realizes you are no threat, it will go about its business and you can quietly move away.

Just like raccoons, squirrels and opossums, you may find that skunks have taken up residence in your garage, in crawl spaces, under houses, porches or decks. If you find one between April and September, chances are very high that you have found a mother with babies. So what are your options? The best one is to do nothing at all and wait until fall. By then, the babies will have left and Mom has moved on. After September, find the access point and block it. If you’d rather not wait until fall, here are some options to encourage her to move out. Skunks like to give birth in dark, quiet places so let’s make the area light and noisy! Place a bright light and a radio tuned to talk radio near her entrance point. You can also soak some rags in ammonia or apple cider vinegar, put them in a plastic bag that you have poked holes in and hang the bag near the entrance. Now, be patient. It’ll take a few days for her to move out with her babies but she will move.

Please remember that we, as humans, cause far more problems for our wild neighbors than they cause us. We urge you to learn to live in harmony with wildlife and use humane solutions when conflict arises. TWRC Wildlife Center is here to help you solve your wildlife issues. Give us a call or check our website: 713-468-TWRC or www.twrcwildlifecenter.org. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, too!

Oh, and by the way, should your dog get sprayed by a skunk, here’s an option for you:

  1. Combine 1/2 quart hydrogen peroxide, 1/8 cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap in an open container.
  2. Run some warm water in your tub and put the dog in it.
  3. Apply the solution liberally throughout your dog’s coat and suds him up well (to the skin). Avoid getting any solution in his eyes.
  4. Rinse your dog well, drain the tub, and rinse well again.
  5. Follow up with a pH-balanced shampoo and conditioner for dogs. Rinse well to remove all residue.

A widespread myth that tomato juice will cut through the smell is false. Tomato juice does not work.

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