I awoke to a beautiful summer day made even better by the fact that unlike my husband Steve, I didn’t have to go to work. I got out of bed and headed downstairs and saw that the kids were already awake and playing a video game in the back room. We lived in an old two-story home and the back room was actually what had been the home’s summer kitchen, once upon a time. Many years ago a lot of homes had summer kitchens, which were separate buildings from the main house that were used to cook and preserve food during the summer months in an effort to keep the main house cooler. Over the years many homes, like ours, added the summer kitchen onto the main house. What had once been a summer kitchen used to preserve the harvest became our kids play room, or as we called it, the back room.
As I was getting the kids some cereal I noticed a faint skunk odor. I didn’t think too much about it as the windows were all open and I assumed that a skunk must have sprayed somewhere nearby during the night. After getting the kids cereal, I took our dog out to go potty, but because of the skunk odor I took her outside on a leash, in case the skunk was still nearby. But when we went outside, I couldn’t smell the skunk and I didn’t see a skunk so I let her off the leash. She did her business and we went back into the house. And I smelled a skunk. Granted, it wasn’t as strong of a smell as when a skunk has just sprayed, but still the smell was there. The kids could smell it too. I grabbed an iced tea and headed into the living room to watch the morning news.
As I was sitting there, watching the news while the kids ate their cereal, I noticed that the skunk smell was not diminishing, in fact it seemed to be getting stronger. Meanwhile, Kelly, our German Shepherd, was pacing the living room, smelling the floor. I couldn’t figure out where the skunk was or where the smell was coming from so I went back outside; still no skunk smell. I went back into the kitchen and the smell was very faint. In the dining room I noticed a slight smell, but in the living room the skunk smell was much stronger and Kelly was still pacing and sniffing along the floor. And then Kelly went over to the cold air return grate located behind my chair on the living room floor and stood there, sniffing. So I went over, got down on my knees and sniffed as well. The skunk smell was so strong it could only mean one thing….there was a skunk in our basement!
I grabbed Kelly by the collar and walked into the dining room where the kids were finishing their cereal and I said, “I think there is a skunk in the basement. I’m taking Kelly outside. Do not open the basement door. Do not go into the basement.” I looked at my son Aaron, who was about eight years old and all boy, and I said, “Aaron, no running, no jumping, no yelling. We have to be quiet, we cannot scare the skunk or he might spray in the basement and it will smell really, really bad.”
“Okay, I won’t,” he said.
My daughter Kinsey, who was about 10 years old, asked, “How will we get him out of there?”
“I don’t know,” I answered and I took Kelly outside and put her in her kennel.
When I got back into the house, I grabbed a large plastic trash bag and laid it down over the cold air return grate and held it in place with a few books in an effort to help keep the smell out of the upstairs. Then I went into the kitchen and called my husband Steve at work.
“I think there’s a skunk in the basement,” I said. I was met with silence.
Finally, he said, “What do you want me to do about it?”
“I want you go get it out of our basement!” I said.
“I can’t leave work yet”, he said, “besides, I have no idea how to get it out of there. Let me think about it and I’ll try to figure out what to do by the time I get home”.
Notice, my husband did not ask me how a skunk would have gotten into our basement. Nor did he say anything about such a thing not being possible. That’s because this wasn’t our first rodeo with a critter in the basement. In the past, we had a rabbit down there that my husband was able to catch and release. Because the back room was not part of the original house, it did not have the basement under it. Rather, it was built on a stacked stone foundation; meaning that it rested on rocks that were stacked together, rather than cemented together. If a stone fell out – or if an animal pushed a stone out – it would create a hole that would allow animals to crawl under the back room and from there, fall into the basement that was under the rest of the house.
Once the kids breakfast was over, they got dressed and the three of us spent most of the day playing in the backroom and outside. We avoided the kitchen, dining room and living room as much as we could because that’s the part of the house the basement was under and we did not want to startle it.
Steve got home around 4:00 that afternoon. And he had no idea how to get a skunk out of the basement without it spraying despite having several hours to think about it. And neither did I. And I was frustrated. So I said, “Well, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to call Bop!”
Bop was my maternal grandfather and he knew a lot about animals. He had hunted and fished his whole life and had a lot of experience with all kinds of animals. And in the back of my mind I remembered my mother telling me that when she was a girl Bop used to pet and even pick up, wild skunks without getting sprayed. So I called Bop. I explained the situation and he got right to it.
“Do you have a basement door that leads to the outside?” he asked.
“Yes we do,” I said.
“Are there steps from the basement going up to the door opening?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Okay,” he said, “here’s what you do. Skunks are meat eaters. First thing you need to do is get some stinky old meat. The older and stinkier the better. Look in your fridge for some old lunch meat or something like that. Then, go open the outside door to the basement – very quietly, don’t make much noise while you do it – and take a wide board, like a plank, and quietly lay it on the steps. Then take the stinky meat and put some in the middle of the plank and some at the top of the plank. The skunk should smell the meat and walk up the plank and out of the basement. Of course, skunks are nocturnal, so he’s not coming out of there until it’s almost dark….this time of year, you can’t expect to see him until 8:30 – 9 o’clock or so. But if you do that, I think he’ll leave on his own.”
After I thanked Bop and hung up the phone, I took the two-week old ham that I had in the back of the fridge and Steve and I opened the outside doors to the basement, laid the plank and planted the ham just like Bop had instructed and we went back inside.
The outside basement doors were just below our dining room window. About 8:30 or so, Steve, the kids and I sat in front of the window and began watching the ham-spiked plank. And sure enough, about 8:45, we saw him. He wobbled up to the first piece of ham and ate it and then continued on to the next piece of ham and ate it before stepping off of the plank onto the grass and wandering off towards the front yard. We ran into the living room and watched him continue through the front yard and across the road.
Steve and I ran outside and pulled up the plank and shut the basement doors. We then examined the stacked stone foundation under the back room and found where a stone had fallen out – or been pulled out by our visitor – and put it back into place.
Although Bop has since passed away, I know that I was very fortunate to have a grandfather who was there for me throughout my life. Not only did he teach me many things, he loved me, supported me and encouraged me in everything I tried, and he did the same thing for my siblings and cousins; just as he did for his three daughters before us. Do you know what’s scary about growing older? Not having someone like Bop around to go to for advice and support anymore. And it’s scary becoming the person that others come to when they need help to get skunks out of their basement. I just hope I can be of as much help to my family as he was to his.
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