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Critter Story: Baby Skunk Moves In
by Pete Stokely, October 1, 2003

I have always tried to live in peace and harmony with all the critters that share my ridge top. But enough is enough: Baby Skunk can't just move into the house. Our house, for heaven's sake!

Celeste and I do try to maintain some standards around here, and a skunk-in-residence just somehow seems to cross some invisible line of good taste, gracious living and all that.

How could such a thing ever happen? In retrospect, the answer is clear. The sad fact is, Baby Skunk just wasn't raised right. His mother, whom I call Ms. Skunk, is a perfect lady and a gracious neighbor. But her son is another matter. He flunked the "Dare to Say No to Cat Food Challenge." And it's all my fault.

The trouble started just after the first big storm of the monsoon season. Floods rushed through the culvert Baby Skunk had called home. Celeste and I idly wondered if he had the good sense to move to someplace snug and dry.

Our concerns, as time would reveal, were deeply misplaced. He doesn't lack good sense. He has too much by far.

A few days after the storm, we drove by his drainpipe. It was empty. Baby Skunk had relocated. In our perfect state of innocence, we were glad for him.

Exactly where he had relocated to wasn't clear for a while. But why should we care?

The first clue that his new home was ... well ... nearby, was an alarming drop in cat food levels. Big bowls of Cat Chow were disappearing each night. But who could be eating such giant amounts?

We convened our family Department of Homeland Security. We considered all the usual suspects. Our three cats enjoy a midnight snack, but not on this vast a scale. Nor could it be Highpockets, a feral cat who roams the ridge top looking for leftovers. Even he can't eat this much.

It couldn't be the speckled pups, two adorable but daft sisters who visit us several times each day and pilfer cat food if they can. They can indeed eat this much, but they are nearly full-grown retrievers. They can't begin to fit through the cat door. It had to be a critter that could operate the cat door. One who eats at night.

The solution was obvious. We'd just close the cat door at dusk. Very simple. Problem solved. Right.

Next morning, we inspected the food bowls. Empty again. And a neat round hole had been gnawed in a screen door. It opened inward, which was odd. Our cats would have escaped outward. That is, they would if they had the bad manners to make holes in screen doors, which they do not.

THEY were raised right.

Mr. Spot, the boldest of our cats, sniffed the edges of the hole. He quickly turned away, wrinkling his nose. No cat had made this hole. He didn't care much for whatever had. We convened our Department of Homeland Security again. This was getting serious! Our mystery critter was mounting a full-scale invasion!

There was only one thing to do. Reluctantly, we decided to close all the doors at night. No more gentle summer breezes wafting through the screen doors. But our borders would now be secure. Right, again.

A few days passed. Then came laundry day. Around noon, Celeste, who has been known to make some strange requests from time to time, brought me one of the strangest yet. "Could you check behind the dryer? I think there's a skunk there."

I checked. From a safe distance, I cried out, "Ahoy the dryer! Any skunks back there?" I expected no response, of course.

But there was a response. A soft rustle.

Something furry was waking up and - very slowly - turning around.

After a long pause, a tiny nose appeared in the space between washer and dryer. It was black and pointed, with a bright white vertical stripe. A pair of very sleepy eyes shone out between the appliances. They were reproachful.

Baby Skunk, Ms. Skunk's misbegotten child, peered out at me. He seemed, not annoyed, but somehow deeply saddened at having been woken up.

I reported back to our Department of Homeland Security. I had bad news. Skunks sleep during the day. In their homes. There could be no doubt about it. Baby Skunk, the freeloading little pest, had moved in. He was apparently planning to stay.

Celeste spoke. "This will just not do," she said.

To be continued.....


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