This morning, as I walked out in the smoky haze courtesy of a new and closer forest fire to water the garden, I was feeling a little Monday-ish, but thoughts of the garden always lift my spirits a bit. I checked that the water had been turned off after the feral cat colony had been watered, and headed out to “the cat house.” The cat house is a little sheltered area where we put out water for the colony, and I have to unhook the hose nozzle there and attach the hoses out to the garden in the mornings, then in the evenings, I unhook the hoses and put the nozzle back on, so the cats can be watered in the morning again.
As I approached the cat house, I noticed many of the cats hanging about, and I assumed that one of the old toms was inside and not letting anyone else join him. I picked up the hose and opened the nozzle, so I wouldn’t get sprayed with water in my work clothes when I unscrewed it. As I did, I glanced down and noticed a patch of long grey fur at the entrance to the cat house. Then I frowned and looked back over my shoulder to where I thought I’d seen the cat with the long grey fur, and sure enough, there sat Old Mama, who is thirteen or fourteen years old and mother or grandmother (or great+ grandmother) to about 3/4 of the colony. My stomach sank, and I looked back down to see two bright black eyes and a little pink piggy nose poking out at me as if to ask, “Whatcha doin’?”
Readers, I did not know I could still move so fast.
I shut the valve off, dropped the hose and leapt out of the “cat yard” before high-tailing it to the house. I asked my mother-in-law if she’d be so kind as to go out in an hour or so and water, as I did not think that it would be a good idea to play with the skunk any more than I already had.
It’s been a bad year for rabies in skunks, but this one appeared to be in good health. It was not particularly afraid of me, but it wasn’t aggressive, and it did not have a sick appearance in eyes, nose or fur. The cats were mildly grumpy that they had to wait for their morning drink, but they weren’t agitated otherwise, which I would expect if the skunk had smelled of illness to them. It didn’t smell of anything at all to me, so it obviously hadn’t sprayed anywhere recently. I’m pretty stuffed up from all the smoke, but there’s limits to what swollen sinuses can block out.
Risks aside, skunks are fairly amiable creatures. They prefer not to spray when given any other option. (And look how quickly I offered another option!) They’re great for gardeners, because they eat so many of the things that eat the garden plants: grasshoppers, mice, moles, grub, weevils and various other insects. Because my garden lives under a cover, I don’t have to worry about the skunk digging for grubs in my nice raised bed. I’ve known wild skunks to be tamed to hand-feeding by someone with a bag of marshmallows and a willingness to risk being made to sleep in the garage. (Please do not try this at home. Skunks can give a nasty bite, they do sometimes carry a variety of diseases, and marshmallows aren’t really good for them, anyway.)
For my part, as long as the skunk stays healthy, it’s welcome to hang around and eat as many grasshoppers as it likes. You can bet I’ll be checking the cat house more carefully before I get near it, though!