Recently I did some work for the zoo in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was a fun trip and “full of incident” compared with some jobs, so you’ll find it mentioned in Tale of the Tree House and Erie Zoo Kiboka Tree House TV Studio.

Gus the skunk at Erie Zoo held by Alyce Barry with Paul Barker of Googleplex MuralsI was accompanied by my primary muralist-wrangler, Alyce. After completing the job we accepted an invitation to meet the “ambassador” animals that interact with the public: parrots, parakeets, a chinchilla, rabbits, and a skunk named Gus.

It was the first time I’d been close to a skunk since 1975 when I was a schoolteacher in Vancouver, British Columbia.

My first wife, Sue, and I were living in a rental unit on a hillside. We discovered that a small skunk had found a way through a crack in the basement wall and would come up through a closet into the kitchen and raid the dry goods. He was bold enough that my flipping on the light had no effect on his behavior, and when he walked between Sue’s feet she demanded I do something.

I called a friend named Rene Dahinden, a Bigfoot hunter (more about that another time), who knew a lot about life in the woods. He recommended that I contact an English professor at the University of British Columbia who was also a skunk expert.

The professor was generous with his time and advice, explaining where I could borrow a live trap and advising me to cover it with brown paper, because a skunk won’t spray what it can’t see. In our conversation he had a skunk story to tell.

It seems someone like myself found five baby skunks abandoned. They called him for advice. The caller turned out to be a surgeon. The professor explained to him how to surgically remove the scent glands to disarm the skunks. The surgeon did so and gave away four of the skunks as pets. A few years later he got a call that one of the skunks had sprayed someone, so he called the professor back, described exactly what he had done and asked what he had done wrong.

After thinking for a moment the professor said, “You didn’t de-scent ’em. You castrated ’em. So all five are still armed and dangerous.”

“My goodness,” the surgeon had replied.

“I don’t think I would come to you for a piles operation,” the professor told the surgeon, “I’d come out a eunuch!”

I successfully trapped the small skunk, and we drove him to the nearest patch of forest. It was winter, and I wore a parka with a fur-lined hood. When I opened the trap, the skunk would not come out. I tried poking him with a stick. No luck. I tilted the back end of the trap up, he still wouldn’t slide out. I shook the trap, beating the front edge on the ground. Suddenly a black-and-white rocket shot out of the trap and I felt mist on my face and found myself totally blind. The smell was overwhelming.

After gasping for a while and wiping off my face, I got in the driver’s side of the car. Sue drove us back home with all the windows open. Whenever we stopped at a red light, I’d see people in the cars on either side with all their windows up, sniffing and looking left and right. I sunk down in the car seat.

I couldn’t find the recommended tomato juice in sufficient quantities, so I used a big bottle of V8 juice, and it worked pretty good. But I could never get the smell out of the parka fur.

Looking at Gus, you’d never guess these cute little things could be such a bio-hazard.