Tuesday, March 6, 2012

This story stinks

We moved into our house almost a month ago.  I've got lots of fun little vignettes about being a homeowner that I want to share, but instead I present to you the story of a dog, his owners, and a skunk.

I wish more skunks were focused on romance, rather than causing mayhem.
Last night the weather was quite pleasant so we had the windows and doors open, letting the cool evening air breeze through the house.  Toivo had been outside most of the evening, which isn't unusual.  He spends most evenings outside, dozing in the yard, enjoying all the space he has.  Around 9:30 Zac and I caught a whiff of skunk, which also isn't unusual.  We discovered early on that there are skunks in our neighborhood and every few days when we're out walking the dogs or driving around with the windows down you can catch a nose-full of the joy that is skunk odor.

This time, however, the scent was much stronger than usual, as if it had come from almost right outside the backdoor.  Zac hopped up to see if he could see a skunk and to check on Toivo, to make sure that he hadn't gotten sprayed.  Zac walked through the backyard and came back with a panicked look on his face.  "The gate is open," he said.  "Toivo's gone."  The next few seconds involved Zac grabbing the car keys and flashlights and me grabbing Toivo's collar and leash.  Of course Toivo hadn't had his collar on as he was safe, presumably, in the backyard.

As a side-note, I should mention that Toivo's hearing has deteriorated quite a bit since we've been in San Diego.  It's to the point now that I'm not sure he can hear much of anything.  (Either that or he's mastered the art of totally ignoring Zac and me.)  Also, his eyesight in his one "good" eye is also getting cloudy.  I've noticed that he's increasingly having a tough time maneuvering in low-light settings.  Losing Toivo at night, when his vision and hearing (and probably sense of smell from getting sprayed) are compromised was more than a little frightening.

Zac and I started by walking up and down the block, calling for him.  Of course we both knew that he wouldn't be able to hear us, but somehow walking and looking in silence seemed wrong.  We met our neighbors a few doors down who were out enjoying the weather and a smoke and they said they hadn't seen any dog come by.  They were sitting out with their dog and I knew that had Toivo come this way, he'd have gone up to their dog right away.  Toivo is curious about other animals.  He wants to smell them, and then carry on.  He can't be bothered to play with any of them, mind you.  He just wants to introduce himself.

Our neighbor graciously joined our search party and we all split off into different directions, Zac on foot one way, our neighbors in their car in another. I went back to the house to get Zoe on a leash to bring her with me as we walked in a third direction, hoping that maybe Toivo would respond to her.  Zoe and I walked and walked.  I'm sure people thought I was a prospective burglar, shining my flashlights into yards.  The lots in our neighborhood are relatively large and sometimes heavy with vegetation.  It's not easy to look around, especially at night.  I wasn't confident that we were going to find him. And with a major highway 300 yards from my house, and a side street that people drive way too fast on, I was afraid for Toivo's safety. 

Zoe started to lag behind me, as she often does when we walk further than she likes.  I decided that it was time to get her back to the house.  Then I heard Toivo barking.  Barking that obnoxious, rapid-fire bark that he has when he's spun up about something.  When he does it while I'm working from home, I grit my teeth, but last night it was the best sound in the world.  But I couldn't tell where it was coming from - the sound was bouncing off houses and trees and garages and I couldn't figure it out.  I ran with Zoe down the block, blatantly disregarding people's property rights and darting through yards.  I breathlessly called Zac on my cell and told him to get to the car.

I ran with Zoe back to house to meet Zac at the car and to ditch her.  I just kept hoping that Toivo would keep barking.  "Please keep barking," I begged.  "Just keep barking."  I had Zac drive down the block where I thought Toivo's bark was coming from.  Even with the quiet battery-powerd hybrid, I couldn't hear his barking from inside the vehicle.  I jumped out of the car and started walking.  Nothing.  My heart sank.  I knew Toivo was close.  How could I lose him now?  Then he started barking again, and I started running.  Across one yard, and then another.  I stumbled and rolled my ankle a little as I hit uneven ground in the dark.  And as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw the hind-quarters of a dog sticking out of a pile of firewood as the dog barked his head off at something he had cornered.  Toivo.  Thank god.  I ran up behind him and essentially tackled him.

That's when I realized that yes, indeed, he had been sprayed by a skunk, and in all liklihood that was the critter that he had cornered.  I wasn't going to stick around to find out.  Since I didn't have his leash or his collar and Toivo was fighting me to get back to his quarry, I had to pick Toivo up and carry him back through the yard to the street so I could flag down Zac.  I pinned Toivo between my legs and called Zac on my phone.  As I waited for Zac to come back I realized, "Holy hell, that smell is AWFUL."  Finally Zac came along with the car.  I got the leash and collar from him and we briefly considered putting Toivo in the car to drive him home.  But as soon as Zac got near the dog he nixed that idea.  He started walking home with Toivo.  I was tired and not thinking clearly so I jumped in the car and drove back to the house.  

I stank.  Oh good lord, did I stink.  (The car is still a little ripe from my drive in it.)  I realized my clothes were covered in skunk musk.  I got back to the house ahead of Zac and Toivo and I went into the backyard and made sure all the gates were latched.  Then I stripped down to my undergarments in the garage.  Zac came home, put Toivo in the backyard and started the shower for me.  We had no tomato juice so I just soaped up and hoped for the best, even though I knew that the smell wasn't going away any time soon.  I had Zac get me one of the crummy, old towels to dry myself off.  I didn't want to wreck our decent towels.  I could still smell it, on my hands especially.  Zac didn't want to come near me.  

I looked out at poor Toivo in the backyard.  I suggested that we put him in the garage overnight, since I wasn't sure if the skunk had gotten into the yard when it sprayed (it sure smelled like the skunk was in the yard when he sprayed) and I was worried that Toivo would get hit again.  Zac said, unequivocally, that Toivo would not go in the garage to make everything smell in there and would instead spend the night outside.  I didn't have the energy to argue so Zac and I went to bed, in separate beds.  The smell was, indeed, that bad.

This morning I heard Zac get up and start getting ready for work.  Around 6am Zac rushed down the hall.  "The gate is open.  Toivo's not in the yard."  I jolted up in bed.  What?  "No, no, no," I kept repeating.  I was still clearing the sleep out of my head - the gates were latched last night. I checked.  How could a gate be open?  Did someone open it?  How long had Toivo been gone?  I threw on clothes and walked the same streets that I did the night before, hoping that I'd hear him barking again.  Zac drove around, doing the same.  Nothing.  It was overcast, but the sun was high enough that it was bright out.  I didn't see Toivo anywhere.  I checked the yard where I had found him the night before.  Nothing.

Lighting doesn't strike twice.  At some point your luck runs out.  This was that morning, I knew it in my gut.  We had managed to find Toivo the previous night, but the odds of finding him again?  When he could possibly have a seven hour head start?  Who knows where he could be at this point?  I met Zac back at the house and told him to go to work.  There wasn't anything that he was going to be able to do.  After he left I went into the backyard and inspected our gate latches.  I discovered, to my horror, that I hadn't latched the one gate correctly.  The gate is a sort of home-made job that someone just whipped together.  I realized that it can sound like it latches when, in fact, it hasn't.  Zac left the gate open the first time, now I had done it too.  I was defeated, despondent.  I could hear the morning rush hour traffic nearby.  I felt sick.

I logged on to the computer and went to Home Again, the website where Toivo and Zoe's microchips are registered.  I logged on and filed a "lost dog" report.  The service sent me a confirmation e-mail that they had sent a report to all of the animal shelters and vets within a 20 mile radius.  All I could do was hope.  Zoe walked around the house, looking a little lost.  I was paralyzed.  I couldn't work.  I couldn't focus on anything.  I wanted to cry, but I couldn't.  I didn't want to leave the house - what if Toivo came home on his own?  But I had to leave.  I had to go in to the clinic to have blood drawn this morning for fertility stuff.  I couldn't stay home to wait by the phone, which is all I wanted to do.  I drove to the clinic and back again, obsessively looking at my phone, willing it to ring with information about Toivo.

When I got home I put together some fliers.  I had to do something.  Maybe if I put fliers on people's doors maybe they'd see them when they got home from work and maybe they'd find Toivo in their yard.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.  And what about his epilepsy?  He has to take anti-seizure medication in the morning and at night?  How many doses could he miss before he started having problems?  I didn't want it to end this way.  Toivo has been my dog for more than 10 years.  We've taken care of each other more more than a decade.  To not know where he was or what happened to him, it just killed me.  I always assumed that I'd be able to bury him when his time came.  Give him a final goodbye.  A final "Good dog."  The thought of not having any sort of closure . . . I couldn't think about that.  

I started down the block.  I was on house number three, talking to a neighbor when my phone rang.  It was an unknown (619) number.  I answered it.

"Hello, is this Katherine?"
"Yes, it is."
"Hi, this is Linda calling from San Diego County Animal Services --"
I cut her off, my voice cracking.
"Do you have my dog?"
She laughed, "Yes, we do.  We found him this morning."
My neighbor smiled at my relief as I started running home to get the car.  I was babbling, "He got sprayed by a skunk last night and we kept him in the yard overnight and then the gate opened and he got out and I couldn't find him," and then I started to cry.  Hard.  
Linda kindly laughed, "Yes, he certainly did get sprayed.  He smells pretty bad.  But we have him."
I cried harder.

Linda gave me directions and told me what I needed to bring to pick him up.  (Proof of rabies shot, my ID, and some money.)  I got back in to the house and saw Zoe, sitting there.  I sat down and she came over to me.  As I rubber her head I just let the tears fall.  I was so relieved.  I couldn't believe that they had found him.  That the microchip system worked.  It was amazing.

I stopped by the grocer on the way to pick Toivo up to buy some tomato juice.  Within 45 minutes I was in the kennel area of Animal Services, waiting for my stinky dog.  The handler brought Toivo out and I cried again.  He was fine.  Not a scratch on him.  He acted normal.  I wanted to strangle him and hug him at the same time.  But then he got closer and I remembered how gawd-awful he smelled.  No hugs for now.

Toivo and I went home where I poured tomato juice all over him.  I rinsed him off with some water and lathered him up with some more tomato juice.  He wasn't thrilled about it, but tolerated it.  Maybe he was just grateful to smell something other than skunk for a few minutes.  I rinsed him again and rubbed him as dry as possible and left him to dry outside, as he still reeked.  

Tomato bath and a rinse.  I still smell.

I went inside and called Petco.  Did they groom skunk-sprayed dogs?  Yes, the did.  They could see Toivo within the hour.  Most excellent.  That gave me some time to hop in the shower to try and clean myself up.  I was more than aware that people moved away from me at both the clinic and Animal Services today.  I can't say I blame them.  It's not a pleasant aroma to carry around with you.  After I got cleaned up, I took Toivo over to the groomers and he came home looking like a champion.  Honestly, it's the best he's ever looked.  He still smells a little bit, but not nearly what it was before.  I can live with what he's got going right now.  

I've had a long 24 hours.  
Happy to be home, clean and in bed.
So now we're here, all of us.  Zac, Toivo, Zoe and I.  The way it should be.  It still smells vaguely of skunk around here but I'll get over it.  (Did you know that the compounds in skunk musk are detectable by the human nose at concentrations of only 10 parts per billion? Not enough Febreeze in the world.) We'll probably just have to push back any hopes of a housewarming party anytime soon.  And to our spring guests - we're pretty sure it will be fine when you get here.  (Fingers crossed . . .)  I'm just relieved.  And happy.  

A good ear-rubbing to cap off the night.  Glad to have you home, buddy.

1 comment:

heather keen said...

I am so happy everyone is home safe. I will add this to my "why you should microchip" talk. :)HB