Monday morning found me getting around slowly. I had planned to spend a leisurely day indoors, doing a little preparation work for the evening meal, and spending the majority of my time working on correspondence on the computer. Before I could get very busy in the kitchen, however, I glanced out the window and there was Daisy deer, munching on the weeds in my new strawberry bed (Refer to my post on “Thieves and Poachers” for a discussion on getting side-tracked). So, I chopped up a big apple and made my way out to greet her.
The weather was a bit windy but pleasantly warm and, since it seemed so nice outside, I decided to tackle a couple of outdoor projects instead of working in the kitchen. Jumping in the Bad Boy buggy which had been charging near the back porch, I made my way around the top of the slope leading down to the canyon. As I traveled, my focus was on Daisy, who was now down at the feed and water station below, licking corn from the feeder. Turning my attention back to my driving, navigating the narrow path between the pool and the slope edge, I suddenly froze in fright at seeing, from the corner of my eye, the familiar black with white stripe just next to my moving wheels! Yikes! A SKUNK!! Upon closer inspection however, the poor critter appeared to be dead but, as I passed by, it lifted its head! Needless to say, I quickly stepped on the pedal of my electric buggy and sped well away from the pool side and Mr. Le Pew. When I looked back, however, I realized something was wrong. The skunk wasn’t moving, but appeared to be napping on its side.
Heart racing, but curious, I walked up slowly, hoping the small critter didn’t see me, and even more desperately I hoped it didn’t come towards me! The wind blew the shiny hair, making a ripple effect that created a dazzling shine. What beautiful hair it had! I had never been this close to one of these smelly critters! I could see that the skunk was breathing but in a labored way, and it’s eyes were closed. Inching closer, I looked for signs of injury but saw nothing from the exposed area, though it was obviously in a bad way and suffering. Since it was lying up against the pool side, however, I did not dare to end its misery, lest the anal glands expel the oily chemical skunks are so well-known for. I decided to concur with FD when he came home for lunch.
When FD arrived, he too, felt it would be kindest to help the poor skunk end its misery, but could not see any way of doing the task without a smelly outcome. Finally, we decided to leave it be and pray it didn’t suffer too much longer. I wondered, in its weakened state that it might not even be able to spray the potent oil. Didn’t a skunk have to arch its back and get in some kind of position to blast its enemy with oil? I realized I was fairly ignorant about skunks and their existence and decided it was time to research and educate myself about this newest mammal in need of our help. Although, impending death is not usually a scenario that prompts educating oneself…
FD and I do not usually kill anything on the place unless there is a good reason. We have had a couple of raccoon invasions in the chicken barn before, with large losses to our hens. We have had various snakes with a penchant for chicken eggs, that meet their death when caught. I remember a skunk that blindly weaved through the yard, trembling and appearing to have lost most of its hair. It didn’t seem to have sight, or maybe the brain was not functioning correctly, but it had no sense of direction. I couldn’t bear to watch such misery. FD took care of it – providing a humane end I could not have given the poor critter. Not all aspects of nature are pretty nor easy to understand. This skunk decided to live its final hours in our backyard. Unfortunately, with where it chose to rest, we could not help it along with the death process.
I read up on skunk habits and facts. I learned that they eat a lot of insects as well as small reptiles and rodents. They eat worms, grubs, spiders, eggs, nuts, grains and cat or dog food left out. They eat some vegetation and berries. They also have a penchant for trash! Skunks live solitary lives, except for a female when she is raising her young. As with a large part of the animal world, the male does not have any part of rearing the youngsters.
After reading various articles on skunks, I decided to do a search on “raising baby skunks” to see what rehabilitation of orphaned skunks might entail. Babies are generally born from January to June in Oklahoma, and they have litters of 3 to 8 offspring. The young can begin the offensive spraying around the same time their eyes open, at 3 weeks of age. They stay with the mother approximately 4 months and, after that, they are on their own. Raising a baby skunk wouldn’t be much different than it was raising Frosty, our fox squirrel. Except that… well, maybe that anal gland issue could be a problem. Clearly though, after reading about my new friend, I realized the skunk gets a bad rap. So many myths surround this beautiful creature, all because of an anal gland that emits a smelly oil. What reason is that to hate a fellow? Why, I know of many a wonderful grandfather who emits a smelly… something or other… when his finger is pulled by an unknowing grandchild! Don’t you?
As the afternoon wore on, I continued to check on this new charge about twice an hour. Each time I found it to be breathing heavily, eyes open sometimes and sometimes not. A slight trembling of body indicated what I perceived as misery. I prayed that it could die quickly, without pain. It bothered me a great deal to know there was so little I could do to help. Then, at 3:00 in the afternoon when I was busy at the computer, I suddenly smelled THE SMELL. Even with doors and windows shut, the foul odor permeated my sanctuary. Upon heading outside, I was disappointed to see that my friend was still alive, and only slightly more glassy-eyed than before. Would his misery ever end? Then I noticed the yellowish splotch on the side of the pool. I also saw a yellow mist on the next two pool panels to the north. Likely, with the wind blowing 20 to 30 mph, it had carried to the back porch as well. Great. But, before I could throw a pity party over the smell, I looked at my little friend again, and felt only compassion. He probably had no control over his bodily functions. Possibly, he had distemper, rabies or some other disease that skunks so often carry. He didn’t ask to contract whatever it was he had. He probably had not felt well for weeks or longer. He didn’t know today would be his last. And I’m quite sure he didn’t think about where he would spend his final hours or moments. He was only trying to pass from this world, and nothing else mattered to him anymore.
An hour later, our beautiful, but very smelly friend, had passed on. FD removed the body when he returned from work, and I began cleanup of the area. I quietly bid my friend farewell, thankful that he no longer had to suffer. In a way, his passing reminded me of two human friends who passed a few years back where I was able to take part in assisting at the final stages of death. While it is difficult to watch a loved one suffer and struggle to let go, it felt good to offer them compassion and love in those final hours. We all hope to die suddenly, even in our sleep if possible. We all hope we don’t make a mess, or act out, or lose our minds. And when it comes, if my passing takes much time, I hope no one is present who would humiliate me and hurt me with unkind words or selfish remarks about what a mess I may be. I hope, rather, there is someone there to offer me comfort and love, to hold my hand, and to pray.
Some may laugh that I cared enough to hang about all day for a dying skunk. But how many of us have looked away from suffering and pain in another’s life because we couldn’t (or didn’t want to) deal with it? How many times have we believed that helping would just be an imposition, on us or them? When was the last time we practiced doing for others as we would have them do for us?
Yes, my visitor was just a skunk. And he ejected smelly, yellow oil all over the side of our pool. But haven’t we all messed things up a time or two in life? Haven’t we all been offensive and undesirable now and again? Does that make us less deserving of comfort and love? I think maybe not…
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…
UPDATE 2/17/2012: It appears my skunk friend was poisoned by a neighbor across the way. I found two more dead skunks while tracking the odor that continued to sweep across our pasture. I am saddened to know that my friend was in grave pain and likely suffered a horrible death, just as his mates likely did.