Uncommon Scents

The boy was already fast asleep in bed with his door closed, much to his benefit. But outside in the hallway and throughout the rest of the house, the night, as some nights inevitably are, was permeated with imperfectness – but this Friday night it was also permeated with the stench of a skunk’s arse.

Some smells are so pungent that they employ other senses to get their point across. The repugnant smell our cat Luna’s poor little face was emitting didn’t just stink … it provided a sensation inside the head of the smeller. A physical sensation like a tiny anarchist was inside my head rapidly firing elastic bands at the backs of my eyeballs.

This skunk smell didn’t smell like that familiar airy skunk scent that wafts in through an open, breezy window at night. This smell was more like Satan relieved himself of some brutally condensed flatulence in bed next to you and held your head trapped beneath the covers – and you can only hold your breath for so long.

This was my first encounter with a skunked pet. The scope of such an incident puts it higher on the panic meter than smelling dog poop on your shoe after having walked throughout the entire house already, and just below the magnitude of the house being engulfed in flames.

Meanwhile, the cat was making its way through every room in the house the moment my panic set in. A scan would have shown every section of my brain lit up with activity – those olfactory brain parts surmounting the smell with its corresponding elastic band eyeball sensation. The “What on Earth am I supposed to do?” section of the brain fully activated as the cat ran rabidly throughout the house trailing tang into every room.

I reeled where I stood with a fight or flight stimulus (Should I continue with this or just burn the house down?). My motor planning shut down (What do I do first, grab the cat or hit up the Internet for help?). And with my frontal lobes on fire, absolutely no executive function, and the parietal lobes failing to identify which of my senses is most affected by this moment, my temporal lobe ran off into the corner with my limbic lobe to cower together and cry.

In that second, just about the only instruction I could give was “Pause the Roku.”

With a recipe for de-skunking (one quart of hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and three teaspoons of dish soap), I looked at the cat circling and hissing at everything and said, “I better go put on something with long sleeves.” Off came the blouse and on came the ultra thick and relatively seldom worn hoodie I bought from my alma mater before finishing my undergrad.

In my absentmindedness while moving to capture the poor creature, I rolled up said sleeves, took a good determined look at the skunk oil-drenched pissed-off cat, and remembered what I was dealing with. I rolled said sleeves back down again before plunging the cat into the bathtub.

With the back of her neck grasped tightly in my right hand, I awkwardly washed off the rest of her body with my non-dominant hand, making the mitigating measures I was performing on the cat considerably more arduous.

When it’s your cat that’s been skunked and it’s your house at risk (the one you pay the mortgage on and clean yourself), when there’s no one else to which you can turn to manage the emergency, and no, Superman is not coming, one experiences that elusive feeling in life that only an adult can have – that ‘I’m actually the adult here’ realization. I’m the only one who can fix this. There’s no other option. It’s ‘fight,’ not ‘flight’ this time. There is no escape possible.

Dangling a cat over a bathtub is one of the most tedious, most terrifying, positions to find one’s self in. In an instant the cat contracts, contorts, and flings itself into a fury impossible to hold onto; something comparable to attempting to use a fully operating chainsaw with no handle.

There simply is no time to bestow mercy upon a beloved animal when its very nature is to tear into your flesh to get away from what it perceives as danger. This was no time for gentle or careful handling. No matter what, the act I was about to engage in had no cruelty-free alternative. The human brain has an interesting way of protecting itself from such trauma. The second I held that cat down in the tub and hastily spread the pasty potion all over it, kneading it into the foul-smelling fur, I could not play the loving cat mom. I was the adult in charge that had to handle this … (explicit excrement).

“OK, little girl. That’s it. OK, almost done,” I reassured her while devoid of emotion, her muscles still tense but waning in resistance. With her fur entirely covered, I let her go to freely roam the bathroom that was already a federally designated disaster area.

The Internet said to let the solution soak on the fur for five minutes. I followed it up with regular pet shampoo, dried her off, and freed her. As far I could tell, most of the smell was gone from her fur and the Internet skunk remedy was a success.

Mission. Accomplished.

My inner child cheered for the adult me that had just, in the child’s mind, saved the world. For a moment, the little kid in me regarded the grownup me as a hero and I allowed myself a moment of immodest celebration of my greatness.

I wonder what other critical feats I am actually capable of.

After everything settled down and the night was again calm, the skunk oil smell that lingered persisted. It acted as a stimulant of sorts during those hours after. I’m actually sitting on my sofa now at 4:43 am after an entire night of no sleep, and conscious of every inhale through my nose. The cat sits nearby under the same effects of the traumatizing tonic. She’s still quietly licking herself as she’s likely been doing non-stop for six hours and will likely do for most of tomorrow, too.

I thought about, ironically, the human experience, although the experience essentially began as one shared between a cat and a skunk. Still, I wondered, how equipped is the average person to handle a crisis? Just like that cat, dizzied and mad with stinging skunk gunk all in her eyes and nose, equally my own ‘advanced’ human mind was mad and dizzy.

It sounded like the trifling philosophical indulgence of an under-slept woman in the wee morning hours, given that it kind of was ‘just a skunking.’ But there’s just something about people and crisis.

We talk about ‘common sense’ all the time, but that concept is subjective. Is knowing what to do in a crisis and then executing the appropriate action/reaction included in that category of common sense?

I think not. Why else would we have emergency responders who are trained and paid to react to emergencies for us? And is there a de-skunking emergency responder out there to call when your cat gets skunked and you don’t know what to do? No!

I think that’s why I’m so overly self-satisfied with the outcome. Only I could take control of that domestic disaster. There was no opportunity for flight. I ran into the fight – and I have the scratch marks to prove it.

By Jean Perry


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