Skunk Smell Removal, or How I Know I Am Not a Redneck

Okay, it’s about dogs, again. One hot July night, about 11 p.m., I let the dogs out. Before I could say, HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, there’s a skunk! The poor unfortunate animal was hanging from The Big Black Dog’s mouth. Now, I have smelled skunk along the road, drifting on foggy clouds of exhaust from semis. I have smelled skunk when it hung in the bushes near the latrine at Girl Scout camp. But I am telling you right now, fresh, dead, last gasp, final effort skunk is a gas from hell. The only thing I have ever smelled/tasted/felt that was worse was when I learned you should not move a bloated ground hog carcass with a pitchfork. But that’s a story for another time.

I shouted at poor Big Black Dog, and he dropped the little toxic fur bag and went to stand on the lawn, out of reach. Big Brown Girl Dog came from where she was hiding in the bushes and stood next to him, consoling him about how sad it was to live with humans who had no sense of the value of killing rodents. The smell was so pervasive and so bad it woke the Big Man up – two floors up in the master bedroom. He calls down, “What do you want me to do?” but in a nice way. I said, “You take care of the body, I’ll take care of the dogs.” You see, you can’t just bury a dead skunk somewhere in the garden – the dogs will dig it up. You can’t just throw it in the trash can, the dogs will drag it out. And you can’t throw it across the road because … well, you get the picture. I gave no more thought to the body, I had an estimated 227 pounds of stinky dog to deal with.

The standard of treatment for a skunk attack is tomato juice baths. I drifted into a defensive, procrastinating reverie as to WHY this is and WHO discovered it – what desperate, foul ancient domestic episode was so intense, so bizarre that a woman (I know it had to be a woman) went into her pantry, got out the tomato juice and poured it on a dog in an effort to get rid of skunk smell. Maybe she had an extensive knowledge of chemistry, which led to a thought process like this, “I have a stinky dog, he got sprayed by a skunk. While my husband is out skinning the skunk to make me a nice hat, I have determined that skunk musk is composed of trans-2-Butenyl thioacetate (12-18 percent), trans-2-Butene-1-thiol (38-44 percent), 3-Methylbutanyl thioaceteate (2-3 percent), 3-Methly-1-butanethiol (18-26 percent), 2-Methlyquinoline (4-11 percent),2-Quinolinemethyl thioacetate (1-4 percent), and 2-Quinolinemethanethiol (3-12 percent) – this was a striped skunk as opposed to a spotted skunk, in which case the chemical composition of the musk would be varied slightly at trans-2-Butene-1-thiol (30-36 percent), 3-Methyl-1-butanethiol (48-66 percent), 2-Phenylethanethiol (2-5 percent), other volatile compounds (less than 1 percent) – discharged with a slight turning motion so that a nearly invisible stream that separated into raindrop sized particles traveled 30-45 degrees toward the dog/target. This volatile spray has bonded with the dog’s skin and fur and will require an acidic bath to be removed. What non-toxic acidic liquid can I apply to the dog that is cheap and readily available, will not harm the dog, but will remove the odor? Perhaps an alpha hydroxy? Malic? Tartaric? Lactic? AH! Tomato juice!”

It’s more likely that sheer desperation caused her to use whatever she had on hand and that she experimented first with peanut butter, Cheese Whiz, oven cleaner and Windex, finally ending up with the tomato stuff when everything else was exhausted.

I have since learned that feminine hygiene douches will also work, but I didn’t have any of those. I do not know how that was discovered but it seems to make sense at a level that tomato sauce does not.

But this wasn’t getting the dogs de-scented. First I accessed the damage. Big Black Dog was absolutely putrid with the scent. Big Brown Girl Dog was smelly and her dense, curly, oily coat was glistening. Little White Dog was faintly stinky, but would still require remediation. Okay, it was going to be a big job. I went to the pantry to do an inventory of available tomato products. I had two cans of tomato paste, one jar of meat sauce, and four jars of gourmet vodka cream sauce (at $6.99 a jar). It was summer – so no tomato soup. Hmm …

I got the can opener, opened one of the cans of tomato paste. I put the leash on the Big Black Dog and started to “butter” him with the paste. He licked the paste off, every where he could reach, as soon as I put it on. I tried holding his head straight out with one hand and massaged it in with the other. It took the two whole cans to get him iced up, and I tied him to a tree to “soak” while I went to work on the Big Brown Girl Dog. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to use the meat sauce on a curly haired dog, but by the time I was getting to her, it was 1:30 a.m. I rubbed the meat sauce into her coat which she appreciated a great deal, almost forgiving me for dissing her man and his big catch. The little white dog I set in the sink. I poured vodka cream sauce over him. The combination of his white coat and the red sauce gave him a sort of “blush” sauce affect. The vodka cream sauce worked so well, I poured the remaining jars over the other dogs, let them sit for a while and then rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. About 3 a.m., I put the dogs in the basement and went to bed.

The next morning, I let them out and found they still had a funk about them. I also felt mightily sorry for myself. I decided I had to get to my comfort zone, and also get more tomato products. I hopped in the farm truck and headed for the Kentucky Fried Chicken.

So, there I was in the drive thru of the KFC, in my black beat up pick up truck. I was checking my lip gloss in the rear view mirror while the lady at the window got my twister sandwich. In the mirror, I could see the bed of the truck. I saw a black trash bag in the bed. I saw a black and white tail poking out of the trash bag.

I was in the drive thru of a Kentucky Fried Chicken in a beat up pick up with a dead skunk in the bed.

In that moment, I knew I was a redneck.

I was stripped of all pretense. I had a moment of shocking self realization. All my Talbots clothes might as well be men’s Hane’s beefy T’s and stretch pants. My fine four-bedroom immaculate and painstakingly decorated Victorian Farm House might as well have been delivered on wheels. I could feel my bangs getting higher as my ‘do morphed into mall hair. I became grammar-impaired and one of my front teeth felt lose.

When the lady at the window offered me the white bag with my foil wrapped twister sandwich, I asked her if I could exchange it for a three-piece original recipe with coleslaw and beans and a Mountain Dew.

I drove home in a dejected haze. I spent the rest of the afternoon bathing dogs and watching Jerry Springer. The phone rang and it was Rippergurl. I explained the sit-chee-ashun. I said, “I am sorry, I am a redneck. There is no denying it.”

“NO,” she said. “NO.”

I said, “No?”

She said, “NO. You are not a redneck. You can’t be.”

I said, “All the evidence points to it. Beat up truck. Skunk. Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

She said. “NO. One thing trumps it all.”

I said, “What is that?”

She said, “You washed your dog with vodka cream sauce at $6.99 a jar. A redneck would never do that. A redneck would never HAVE anything that cost $6.99 to put on pasta.”

She made so much sense. I sighed. I am NOT a redneck. Fer sure.

[If you’re looking for a skunk-smell-removal remedy other than vodka cream sauce, head over to Hank’s blog and read “A Scent of Skunk.” – Eds.]

Published on Jan 8, 2010

Grit Magazine

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