As a child, I had an astonishing array of pets, a fact that undoubtedly helped contribute to my already warped imagination and would one day serve me well as a novelist. My pets ranged from mundane species like the wolf spiders and praying mantises I caught around the neighborhood, to such purchased exotics as a large caiman, Nile monitor, and the fifteen-foot reticulated python that would one day almost end my life.

Living in the suburbs of Philadelphia and close to Fairmount Park, I was occasionally exposed to resident wildlife as well. This explained the day a neighborhood teenager “found” a baby striped skunk in the park and proceeded to sell it to my mother. Don’t ask me what she was thinking; I knew as a child she’d saved a young racoon and kept it like a dog, so maybe she figured the skunk would be fine too.

“Stripe” was raised as a member of the family. As polecats go, he was docile, playful, and friendly, and grew fast. I suppose a diet of table scraps helped, as he eventually reached a rather waddled twelve pounds. Despite what our neighbors thought, he wasn’t wild or dangerous. He never sprayed any of us; that defensive skill was reserved for use against predators, and we were all undoubtedly fellow skunks in his eyes.

I only saw Stripe spray once in all the time we had him, and that turned out to be our neighbor’s large and extremely vociferous collie. I was out walking the skunk on a leash when this huge dog came bounding over, barking ferociously, with nary an owner in sight. Undaunted by the dog’s sharp teeth Stripe raised his tail like a pirate’s flag – the initial warning for would-be attackers. The dog continued to yap away. Ignoring my yells, it edged closer, and I knew it was just a matter of time before it tried grabbing the much smaller skunk.

Unfazed by the mammoth canine bearing down on him, Stripe gave his final warning – a series of loud paw smacks on the ground as he gave ground the last time. When the threat was ignored and the dog came even closer, he decided it was time to let fly, and let fly he did. Spinning around to point his rear at the soon-to-be-surprised collie, Stripe raised his tail and . . . fire in the hole!

A noxious stream of pure horror shot out from his anal glands, straight into the dog’s face. Partially blinded and choking on the foulness that invaded its mouth and nasal passages, the collie ran off shrieking. I barely made it home before the call came from the dog’s infuriated owner. Even without a speakerphone I could hear the “Your *#%@! Skunk sprayed my poor dog!” My mother was unruffled. “Your dog was running wild without a leash and attempted to attack our leashed pet. If you have a problem, tell it to the judge.”

A moment later, I fell down laughing as I heard her add, “Oh, and tomato soup should get rid of the smell. You’ll need at least two dozen cans for a dog that size. Have a nice day.”

I still chuckle thinking about it. What can I say. I guess I was a real stinker back then . . .  😉



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