A lesson: Be wary of animals that you know nothing about

When I first arrived here, I felt that the place looked similar in some ways to my home in Wales, and I therefore expected to find plants and animals here that resemble the ones found in my homeland. It is true that there are deer, foxes, pine trees, rabbits, and other familiar creatures here, but there are also plants and animals that I have never seen before.  The other day I found out that one American animal in particular is full of surprises.

In Wales, in addition to birds of prey, deer, rabbits, otters, squirrels, foxes, and badgers, we have polecats, weasels, and stoats. Occasionally I would see stouts and weasels as I explored the forests around my home. Two nights ago I discovered that the Americas have their own singular member of the weasel family.

It all began when Lady M let the dogs out for their evening exercise. Soon after, I noticed that a rather peculiar smell was wafting its way through the house. I sniffed the air and gave Lady M a quizzical look.

“Oh no! I hope they haven’t…” she said as she dashed to the door, flung it open, and called for the dogs to come.

Pinot and Pippin came trotting in looking a little puzzled. After all, they had only just gone out. Then Reeka came to the door, and to my astonishment I saw Lady M stumble backwards and slam the door in the poor dog’s face.

“She hasn’t?” said Lord B.

“Oh yes she has,” said Lady M. She had a grim look on her face, one that I have come to recognize. The look means that she is very displeased indeed.

Lady M tramped through the house and began to pour various substances into a bucket. She was muttering under her breath and I heard the words “stupid dog…” and “cannot believe it,” and “she never learns…”

I was very curious to find out what was going on so I joined Lady M in the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” I asked, watching as she poured liquid soap and baking soda into the bucket.

“Reeka has been skunked. Again. I am making the mixture that I use to get her clean,” Lady M said. Her face was strangely pale and her eyes sparkled in a most unsettling way.

“Skunked? What, pray tell, does that mean?” I asked. I had never heard the word before.

“It means that a skunk has sprayed Reeka and she stinks to high heaven,” said Lord B.

“A skunk?” I asked. I had no idea what they were talking about. Alas, this is something that happens all the time to me now. My ignorance about this world is shocking.

“Skunks are a member of a weasel family, and when they are threatened they spray whatever is threatening them with a horrible smelling fluid,” Lady M told me as she mixed up the foaming liquid. The mixture looked dangerous and I began to feel sorry for Reeka.

“Ah, they must be a relative of the polecat. Polecats too can make a nasty odor, but it is not that bad,” I said smiling. Lady M glared at me, and then she went to bring Reeka into the house. Wanting to be helpful, I offered to carry the dog to the sink in the mud room

“You don’t want to do that, Gryf,” Lord B said.

At a gallop Lady M. escorted Reeka (holding her by the collar) to the mudroom. I trotted in her wake, eager to do what I could to help.

“Then I will help you wash her,” I said feeling virtuous. “It can’t be all that bad.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Lord B called out. I thought I heard a hint of something in his voice that I could not place. Was it humor?

Lady M carefully lifted Reeka into the sink and began washing her. I leaned over the sink to rub the dog’s fur and that was when I began to realize the true horror that is the smell of a skunk.

I almost fainted when the smell assaulted by nostrils. My eyes began to water. I decided to breathe through my mouth. Only later did I discover that this was a terrible idea. My food tasted like skunk for two days. Gasping, but bravely carrying on, Lady M: Honestly Gryf! I rubbed Lady M’s mixture into the dog’s fur. Two more times we washed and rinsed until Lady M announced that the job was done. I lifted the sorry looking dog onto the floor and dried her. Even though Reeka was mostly deskunked, the horrible aroma was everywhere. It spread all over the house and persisted for hours. How could one small animal make such a powerful smell?

The next day I set about trying to learn as much as I could about Skunks. Here are some nuggets of knowledge that may interest you:

  • Europe does not have skunks. Most of the species live in the Americas, and there are a few species in Asia.
  • A skunk can spray its appalling fluid as far as ten feet (3 meters). Skunks would prefer not to use up their supply of fluid because it takes many days for their bodies to make more. They try to scare off predators with their appearance (their stripes), by hissing, stamping their feet, and by raising their tail.
  • Most predators will have nothing to do with skunks. However, great horned owls will hunt and eat skunks. You will not be surprised to know that these owls have a poor sense of smell.
  • Some people keep skunks as pets. Naturally they have the scent glands surgically removed.
  • The spray can cause skin irritation and even temporary blindness. It can perceived by the human nose up to a mile downwind.
  • Skunks are omnivorous, and in urban areas they like to raid rubbish bins Lady M: he means garbage cans.

I have learned an important lesson from this adventure. Do not get too close to animals that you are not familiar with. You may regret it. Even the ones that look sweet may have a hidden weapon that you know nothing about. One would think, after experiencing Arwel’s treachery, that I would know this by now.