In search of ponies: Ooooh, that smell

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

I’ll admit, I was scared Tuesday morning when I saw the black fury mass clinging to a high branch in the tree along my fence-line.

You might wonder why I would be afraid of a cornered animal hanging on for dear life in a tree above my antagonist and madly barking dogs.

Well let’s rewind a bit…

The first incident was last fall when I went out to check on the dogs one evening and found half a skunk a few feet from the porch. Now I suppose he could have crawled into the yard and died, with half his body going dust-to-dust before the other half, but the dogs’ proud wags made it pretty clear they knew something about how it got there.

And sure, I had noticed the smell around the house, but chalked it up to country livin’ — after all, just about any skunk smells like it’s close.

As city dogs thrust into country life, it made sense that they would be a little behind the curve on why the strange cat in the yard was raising its tail instead of running, but one time should be all it takes, right?

Wrong.

How about half dozen times and counting.

You know, Abraham Lincoln once said, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself,” but I think in the case of my pups, they wait with baited breath for the publicity like E! fans looking for a train wreck.

Yep, it appears my dogs have developed a taste for the skunk game, and I’m beginning to think their objective is to run a skunk into a corner and push to the front of the pack in an effort to get hosed first, kind of like the fans at those outdoor summer concerts. You know, the ones you see running forward toward the fire hoses with their arms in the air yelling “Spray me! … Hey, over here, get me!”

Or maybe they see it more like running through a sprinkler on a warm summer day … “Weeeee…”

My theory is further bolstered by the fact I haven’t found anymore skunk carcasses, leading me to think they figured out they can have more fun if they let them live to spray again another day.

And I have to say my pups have become quite successful at the challenge because they have been sprayed at least three times just in the last month or so.

Now I mentioned the smell and you would think that you would know when your dog has been sprayed, but if you’ve never been directly exposed to eau de skunk, you know it doesn’t quite work that way.

What actually happens —until you learn better — is you step outside and instantly smell skunk in the air, which causes panic. “Hear doggy doggies,” you yell, ushering your pals inside.

Everyone safe behind steel fire doors, you can still smell skunk, but of course the outside air followed you inside and the stench is stuck in your nose, right?

Wrong again. You see it’s one of nature’s little tricks — skunk spray really only smells like skunk spray from a distance.

I’m not sure why, but you can be standing right beside a dog that’s been sprayed and you don’t realize it until you walk away, and by then the damage is done.

Time and time again, I have been tucked in bed ready to drift off to sleep when the eau de skunk makes its way from the sleeping dogs, through the vents and into my nostrils.

And by morning, the scary realization sets in that you don’t smell it anymore, meaning only that your nose has probably switched sides and can no longer be trusted.

My coworkers don’t even laugh any more when I arrive in the morning and ask them for a sniff test to make sure I didn’t grow immune and unknowingly bring my personal life to work with me.

So yes, Tuesday morning when I heard the barking and rushed out to see what all the ruckus was about, I froze in terror under the tree.

Quite frankly I didn’t know what to do. The dogs clearly had the critter where they wanted it, content to stay at the base of the tree all day if that’s what it took, and I could only envision playing the good Samaritan and intervening just to have the thing launch down on top of my head in a rain of skunkiness — and me left with less than an hour to get to a meeting.

Swallowing my fear, I decided to take my chances for the sake of my neighbors’ ears and sanity and at least try to distract the dogs long enough to give the fur-ball a running chance.

Much to the chagrin of my pooches, and my utter delight, it was a fuzzy black feral cat with terrified green eyes that launched out of the tree and ran for the safety of the neighbor’s pasture.

And all I can say is, may they always be feral cats.