Monday, January 11, 2010

Skunk! (part 1 of 2)

On warm summer Sunday night, just as I was starting my bedtime routine, shutting down my computer, and saying goodnight to my houseguest when I heard a commotion outside. I wasn't sure if Ollie, Marshall, and their little friend Gus were just wrestling outside in the dark, chasing fireflies, or perhaps excitedly sniffing heavy scents that concentrate at dusk. When I heard Ollie begin to growl, I was certain this was not an innocent Backyard At Night exploration. I ran to the back door just in time to hear what sounded like a very large man walking through a very large pile of dried leaves.

There was a yelp.
Then there was a smell.

I called the dogs to me, helpless as the freshest of fresh skunk cloud wafted toward the house. My friend began closing windows as I grabbed Ollie by the collar and sniffed. My immediate gag reflex told me he had indeed been skunked. Gus ran half-circles in my periphery and Marshall darted past me and through the dog door into the house.

My friend (Gus' owner) caught Marshall by the collar at the top of the stairs which caused Marshall to resist, flopping around like a wet noodle and not wanting to be dragged back outside. He wanted to hide, safe and sound in his bed. I didn't blame him. I didn't want to be outside either and my bed was sounding pretty darn good just a few minutes ago.

Once all the dogs were in the yard and the dog door secured and locked, I began making the de-skunking formula in a metal mixing bowl. My friend turned on all the bathroom fans and started lighting every scented candle we owned. My husband hooked up the hose to a spigot in the garage and set up the industrial flood lights I normally use when painting a room. Somehow, Gus had managed to avoid getting sprayed and whined from inside as his friends were stripped of their collars and hosed down. Two hours and two very sad, lonely, wet, scared, dogs later, the immediate concern was taken care of.

It took three days, four air neutralizing candles, and and about three entire spray cans of Oust before the house was minimally tolerable.

When dogs get skunked, the hardest part to clean is their faces. Unfortunately, this is the part that gets most of the spray. Try as you can, it can take days or weeks and several applications of baby wipes to get rid of the smell. Every time Marshall or Ollie drank from their water bowls, the newly moistened odor molecules permeated the air. The last thing in the world I wanted to do is nuzzle their muzzles or give little good night nose kisses.

This is a problem. One of the bonding routines in our house is jokingly referred to as 'Forced Snuggling'. There is a method to the snuggles, using touch as a bonding tool and as a preparatory set for vet checks, emergency situations, and toddler-proofing. There is lots of petting and belly rubs with a good amount of touching the in and outside of ears, mild tugging on tails, slight pressure on the ribcage, muzzle rubs and fingers by eyes, sticking fingers and hands in the mouth and touching teeth as well as brushing their soft puppy lips. There is paw touching and paw holding and a little bit of pressure in between toes. There is close-face talking and nose-kisses and chin nuzzling. I feel very bonded. They feel very bonded. We become a tangled pig-pile of fuzzy love on the living room floor.

Although I am usually the one who instigates these sessions, Marshall and Ollie both have their own ways of saying they are ready for Forced Snuggling. Marshall lays on the futon and lifts his front right paw as if he is opening up his little arms to give a hug. Ollie comes to wherever I am sitting or standing and sits on my feet with his back to me and looks over his shoulder, reminding me the seals I remember from Sea World shows.

In the days after the skunking, there were a lot of hug-offers and seal-smiles. There was also be a lot of attention-seeking behavior and Are-We-Still-Friends? looks. "Of course we're still friends," I say in happy-happy voice. "I just don't want to nuzzle your gross nose."

I had to do a lot of thinking about how I show my affection to my dogs and reinforcing their want to bond and socialize in both human and dog ways. I started brainstorming and everything I was coming up with was very human/primate-oriented. I had come up with a dozen ways that were mostly some form of talking and snuggling. The only thing left on the list was "play ball." Ollie would be thrilled for an afternoon of ball. I knew Marshall, on the other hand, wouldn't be as enthusiastic.


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