My husband Paul has repeatedly demonstrated that the TV character MacGyver has nothing on him; he’s done everything from building a maple syrup boiler out of scrap parts to improvising car repairs. Yesterday, he proved that his ingenuity extends to the world of skunks.
The saga started when I went down to the chicken coop to clean the nest boxes and check the birds’ food and water. I saw an odd movement and realized there was a skunk trapped in a tiny space between the coop and the fence. That would have been pitiable enough, but its head was caught in a peanut butter jar.
The jar had once contained a cinnamon raisin peanut butter that had sounded good in theory but in practice was terrible. I’d put it in the chicken pen for the birds to peck at a couple weeks previously and completely forgotten about it.
Clearly, the skunk had NOT forgotten about the peanut butter. It had dug its way into the pen and cleaned out the jar; its head must have gotten stuck as it was going for the last few licks. I felt terrible: Not only was I the culpable jar leaver, but I was dressed in my work clothes and had to leave in a few minutes to take Sage to school and go to work. No time is a good time to wrangle a skunk, but this was a PARTICULARLY not-good time.
I didn’t see any viable options. Paul had left for work an hour previously, my office was short-staffed and I had to be there to open it, and Sage had to get to school. A few minutes later, when I looked out again before leaving, I saw that the skunk had miraculously freed itself from the corner and was stumbling across the pen, still jar-headed. The chickens continued pecking at seeds with a magnificent disregard for the bumbling intruder. Racked with guilt, I left for work.
When I arrived, I called Paul and apprised him of our potentially smelly situation. Both of us tried calling as many people as we could think of when we got chances, from the local vet to the DNR. Nobody could offer any help. The skunk was OUR problem.
When Sage and I got home, I had mixed feelings to see that the skunk was alive but exhausted, lying forlornly in the middle of the chicken pen. I WAS relieved to see that she (I could see “it” was a “she” from where she was lying) had considerately refrained from spraying.
I let the chickens out to roam, and they stalked out with only a few muttered comments about their uninvited guest. But I still had an hour before Paul would return. Wanting to keep my dog Court away from the vicinity of the skunk, who was now lying against the pen’s door, I walked him over to my Amish neighbor Jacob’s house to see if Jacob might have some wisdom for me.
He’s generally a pacifist, and he regaled me with stories about his stepfather, who kept pet skunks. He said that if you lift a skunk by its tail so it has nothing to grip, it can’t spray; he claimed his stepfather had often done so. This didn’t seem a pleasing prospect, so he offered to come over with a shotgun if necessary.
Just as he was about to go find the gun, Paul’s car approached. Paul stopped in the middle of the road and told us to hold off on any violence: He had a plan. What that plan was wasn’t clear to me, but I told Jacob I’d let him know how the plan worked out, and Court and I headed home.
When I arrived, Paul was assessing the situation; the skunk was still collapsed, head in jar, next to the pen door. “It’s not as bad as I thought,” he announced, and he strode into his man-shop to work his magic.
When he emerged, he was wielding a decapitated tree pruner. Although the pruner was long since broken, he’d kept it for just such an emergency. He ran a thin rope through the long, hollow tube and made a slip knot at the end.
“I’ll lasso the jar,” he explained, “and pull it off the skunk’s head. Then the skunk can do whatever it wants.”
This seemed like a plan with a large potential for disaster, but we didn’t have much of a choice. He had Sage bring a large black construction bag just in case things went awry and he had to try to contain a stink cloud by dropping the skunk in.
They approached the pen:
Paul cautiously opened the door and lassoed the jar:
And sure enough, after a brief struggle to get the jar off, the skunk was free!
Sage, Paul, and I retreated so the menfolk could bask in their triumph. (I say “their” triumph because Sage had, after all, very helpfully held the bag.) We figured by the time we got done taking pictures, the skunk would have gone on her way.
She didn’t. Exhausted by her day in the jar, the skunk (which Sage had decided to call “Flower”), waddled into the bottom of the chicken coop, where she curled up under the ramp and took a nap.
Flower felt completely at home and was in no hurry to move on. She stayed there the rest of the evening–despite bribes of food and water to try to lure her out–and Paul finally had to use his lasso-stick to drive her out. Instead of leaving the coop directly, she ran back into the pen. I watched anxiously from the house (where I was keeping my dog well away from the excitement) as Paul and Sage chased Flower around the pen.
I didn’t think that would end well, especially since Flower was stubbornly avoiding the open door. Fortunately, she ended up digging a hole under the fence and going out the hard way, spray free. It was a happier ending than I’d dared hope for: the skunk was alive and no cloud of fumes had been released.
Not at our house, anyway. Apparently, she avenged herself on Jacob and his shotgun: Later that evening, we heard his dogs barking and sniffed the unmistakable Eau de Skunk. Clearly, violence doesn’t pay.