"Flower," a skunk, smells a contestant's sneaker during the 1997 Rotten Sneaker contest in Montpelier, Vt. Kids from around the country competed to see who had the most rotten, smelly sneakers, and they won prizes such as trophies, savings bonds and foot care products.

Like all mortal men, I knew this day would arrive.

Somehow we all go through life and pretend it will never happen to us. The years go by and we try not to think about it, but then one day, one awful day, there it is.

Death? No, don't be silly. I'm talking about the first time your dog encounters a skunk.

Most people don't think about skunks much, which is probably because they have never met one. After snakes, skunks may be my least favorite creatures that roam the earth. They are actually quiet little varmints and don't draw much attention or cause a lot of trouble. Until your hunting dog gets in their personal space, that is. When this happens, you may wish you had taken up golf or been more serious about bowling or hang gliding — anything except hunting with a dog.

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Contributed photo / Larry Case

For those of you who don't keep up on such things, maybe a quick lesson on our fragrant friend the skunk is in order. Think of it as Skunk 101.

For classification purposes, skunks for many years were considered a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) as cousins to more celebrated creatures like the fisher, marten, mink, otter and the big daddy of them all, the wolverine. In recent years, scientists have reclassified skunks into the Mephitidae family, along with a wonderful little animal known as the stink badger. The skunks are evidently not too happy about this, figuring their reputation has suffered enough, and I am told they have filed a lawsuit.

Be that as it may, the skunk is best known for his main defense weapon: two scent glands — located in his, well, posterior — that are capable of spraying their foulness accurately more than 10 feet away. The scent is made up of a mixture of sulfur and a group of chemicals known as thiols, which are also known for their strong odors. Put them all together, and somebody will smell a skunk.

A blast of skunk scent can be overwhelming and may cause temporary blindness if spayed in the eyes. We humans don't really have a well-developed sense of smell, but we can detect skunk scent more than three miles away. The skunk's spray is his only defense weapon and will repel all potential predators except for one, the great horned owl. This owl commonly dines on filet of skunk, and you have to figure anything that will eat a skunk is one bad dude.

So perhaps now you get the picture of why running into Mr. Skunk is so potentially traumatic for your canine buddy and you.

Last week, I was tramping over the steep hillsides here in my part of the Appalachians. My companion this day was a certain brown dog by the name of Beau, AKA Beau the Wonder Dog, because often I am wondering where he is. Beau is 13 months old, of bird dog heritage and runs like the proverbial deer.

Not long after leaving the truck, I was watching Beau traverse the landscape and to my dismay watched him run headlong into a medium-sized skunk. Beau seemed to make it clear he wanted to get acquainted; the skunk did not. I implored Beau from a distance to stay away from this newfound friend, but to no avail. The skunk stayed with standard procedure for skunks, tail held high, business end aimed at dog.

I knew what was coming and saw Beau turn his head with a look on his face that seemed to say "Holy toxic waste Batman! What was that?" Now my dog had no problem parting ways with the skunk and returned to me. I steeled myself for the assault on my senses.

If you have never been witness to a dog that has just received both barrels from a skunk — or worse, been sprayed yourself — it can be hard to describe. The smell seems to take on a living entity of its own. It is a physical presence and may seem like hitting a wall of scent that engulfs you in its choking stench.

I now had a mission, and I knew the quicker I did it, the better. Getting the dog in the back of the truck was ticklish business, but we were soon headed home, and thankfully it was a short trip. Now came the part of the ordeal Beau may have thought was worse than the attack of the skunk.

I launched into a full-scale assault on the stink that was clinging to my cringing canine. Conditions and temperature were not exactly primo for a bath in the yard, but that is what we did. Beau expressed his distaste for this activity several times, but we plowed on and accomplished the mission.

This part is important: If you find yourself in this predicament of needing to scrub your dog, concoct a mixture of warm water, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and dishwashing detergent. (People who seem to know report the baking soda and peroxide work together to neutralize the skunk scent.) Scrub the doggie well with this and leave it on him for a few minutes, then rinse and do it all over again.

It worked well on Beau the Wonder Dog. Forget about the tales you have heard on bathing your dog in tomato juice. Use the baking soda and peroxide mixture.

I hope this helps any pilgrims out there who may be afield with a canine partner this year. And tell your dog to stay away from skunks. Any relationship with them just plain stinks.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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