Skunked

January 16, 2009

When I bought my house, I inherited a quirky (read: annoying) Swedish washer/dryer combo. The Askö is a slim, stacked little number—no, nothing like Anita Ekberg—that features a panoply of confusing dials, buttons, and symbols. It was weeks before I figured out that the Askö did not, in fact, make toast.

The dryer portion of the Askö died one hot summer day when confronted with a load of sopping towels. It took me a few tries to find a company that was willing to service it. I finally got one that reluctantly sighed, “Well, we service all brands. We don’t like Askös, but we do them.” It soon became clear that this was the best I was going to get.

While the guys were here, working on and bitching about my ridiculous piece of machinery, they commented on a strong skunk smell emanating from the laundry room. Huh. It wasn’t like I hadn’t noticed the skunk smell before, but I hadn’t not noticed it, either. It was more like the scent of the previous owner’s black lab that had embedded itself in the floors—just another facet of an old house, new to you, that gets absorbed into your consciousness.

Two hours and a hundred bucks later (the Askö merely needed a new belt. Damn those Swedes; I’d been hoping for an excuse to buy myself a new Kenmore), the dryer was chugging away and I was obsessed with trying to find the source of the smell. I figured it must be coming from somewhere under the house. Looking around outside, I discovered a small hole under my foundation through which a skunk could easily come and go. I had a resident groundhog outside—for reasons not fully known to me, I had grown fond of him and started thinking of him as “Marty”—and wondered if he had been using the crawlspace, too. I hoped Marty had not gotten sprayed by the skunk or, worse still, started an inter-species relationship with it. He could do better.

Everything I read online said that a skunk scent smell that lingered more than a few weeks meant, most likely, the continuing presence of a skunk rather than a quick spray-and-scoot. And winter was coming—I didn’t want him getting too comfortable under there, ordering pizzas and having his mail forwarded. In the evenings, I noticed scritching sounds coming from under the living room floor. There was also a new skunky smell over by my front door (one day it actually manifested itself as something I can only describe as Burning Skunk. I hoped he hadn’t immolated himself, distraught over Marty’s rejections of his advances.)

It was time to take action. I found a company online called Advanced Wildlife Control: “Professionals in Removal and Exclusion of Nuisance Wildlife.” AWC was just a few towns over and boasted humane removal of all manner of unwanted critters, including skunks. We arranged for them to come by and set two catch-and-release traps. I was warned that I’d still have to pay even if they wound up catching a possum rather than a skunk: “The possums really like the skunk bait.”

The skunk bait so beloved by skunks and possums alike turned out to be something in a jar sprinkled over mini marshmallows. Maybe it was the rodent version of the s’more. The man setting the traps told me I’d have to check them daily and call immediately if somebody was in there, so that the animals wouldn’t needlessly suffer. He also pointed out that the traps were covered, so as to provide protection from the elements. “And what do you do with the animals once you catch them?” I asked, envisioning a sunny field studded with clover, free-range skunks, and the odd opossum. “Oh, we euthanize them,” he said, cheerfully. “Nobody like skunks.” He added that skunks, in addition to being a hard sell, are quite often rabies carriers, which made me feel a little less guilty about their ultimate fate.

The next morning, I checked the traps and somebody—not a skunk—was in one of them. All I saw through the wire was a wall of beige fur. I fervently hoped it wasn’t Marty. On Day 2, we caught a skunk. The animals were duly carted off and the skunk smell in my house gradually dissipated.

A few weeks later I received an itemized bill in the mail. Trap-setting fee: $95. Caught—one opossum: $95. Caught—one skunk: $95.

Fortunately, it seemed that Marty had never developed a taste for bait-spiked marshmallows.

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