I could not make these things up

Posted on May 14, 2011


My electric utility, Great Lakes Energy, sends me Michigan Country Lines every month. I generally read it, as I am a compulsive reader, and it is a quirky publication. I am fond of quirky. This month’s Letters page has gone well beyond quirky to . . . well, you can decide for yourself.

A reader—one Michael Cromley of Afton—has written to complain about an article that apparently came down in favor of killing skunks to keep them from camping out at the old homestead. Mr. Cromley argues that if skunks “are not threatened they WILL NOT SPRAY.” He goes on to provide this handy tip:

“If a skunk goes into the house it’s easy to get them out without being sprayed. For a skunk to spray it must lift its tail and curl it over its back. Very quietly and slowly go into the room where it is and sit down in the middle of the floor. If you sit quietly the skunk will in a short time come right up to you. Quickly grab the tail and quickly lift it up so it is hanging down. In this position it can’t spray. Simply walk out into the yard and swinging it by the tail let it fly. It will hit the ground running and you’re home free. And, so is the skunk.” – Michigan Country Lines, May, 2011, page 7.

I can see a couple of flaws in this logic. First of all, if a skunk goes into my house it is going to feel threatened right off. The Cowboy has not forgotten his last experience with skunks. Neither has Miss Sadie, who would not allow him back in the dog room for days.  Miss Puss will dive into the fray on general principles. You know how she is. So already we know there is not going to be much opportunity for quiet communing in the middle of the floor.

Assuming, arguendo, that a different homeowner, unburdened by a spaniel with murder in his eye, manages to grab the skunk by the tail and haul it into the air, do you think that skunk is just going to dangle there shrugging its paws? Ha. The skunk is going to squirm and slash and bite and do backflips until it can let off a bomb.

But let us imagine that the homeowner has encountered an unusually pacific skunk and manages to get it out to the back yard without incident. Now he swings it around to get up momentum and lets it fly.  I can see it now. The enraged skunk will “hit the ground running” all right. It will run right back into the house, slash and burn its way through the defenders, climb up the drapes, curl its tail over its back in a decorative manner, sell it with a look, and let fly with an eyewatering stream aimed directly at the heating vent across the room.

After all that, even Maryanne Jorgensen couldn’t sell the house.

You know I like to steer you to authoritative sources in these matters, so I have done some mousing around on the internet, slowly of course.  Here are some things you might like to peruse in case you are still thinking Michael might have a point.

I found the website for the Skunk Whisperer, which has this cool header:

I found a story about a kindly cop who rescued a skunk with its head stuck in a salad dressing jar. A BB gun was involved. It must be true. It was on Fox News.

I turned to my beloved Stan Tekiela. In his Mammals of Michigan Field Guide he says that the skunk will “face a predator when threatened, arch its back and raise its tail while chattering its teeth. If this does not deter the predator, it will rush forward, stomp its feet, stand on forepaws with tail elevated and spray . . . . Holding the animal by its tail off the ground will not prevent it from spraying.”

The Cowboy says he tried holding his particular skunk off the ground by its tail and Tekiela is absolutely correct.  Of course, we must observe that the Cowboy is very short and thus probably not able to achieve the necessary elevation to swing and let fly, as advocated by Michael Cromley.