Creature Comforts

It was my daughter’s fourth birthday, and the biggest excitement for her wasn’t a party or even cake or presents, it was bringing a special treat for her preschool. I had aspirations to make special cookies, though I came to the sad realization that unless I was baking late into the night, homemade anything wasn’t going to come to fruition.

This thought had dawned on me, thankfully, while I was standing in the bakery section of Sam’s Club at approximately 5 p.m. the day before my daughter’s birthday. So, she gladly picked out a tray of 30 cupcakes with cheery pink and yellow icing and decorated with little plastic ladybugs and flowers. Perfect. She was thrilled with her choice. I felt it was $11 well-spent.

I laid the tray of cupcakes carefully on the tippy-top of the mound of merchandise already in our cart and headed for the checkout. As we made our way through the parking lot to our van, I gripped the handle of the cart tightly, cringing at every bump we hit along our way. I watched in horror as the grapes slid off the top and fell onto the asphalt. While replacing most of the grapes back into their container, I stared at the cupcakes still balanced on the cart, summoning all my telekinetic skills to keep them from meeting the same fate as the grapes.

It worked, and I plucked the tray of precious cupcakes off the top of the cart, placed them safely on the floor of the van between the children’s seats, and entered into a two-minute impromptu lecture to the children about how they should exit the car so as not to crush the cupcakes. I made sure I made good eye contact and got the appropriate feedback from both of them. If there had been a pen and paper handy and I hadn’t had frozen food thawing in my still-full cart, I would have drafted a simple contract and had them both sign and date it.

We arrived home, the children exited the van and we held a little awards ceremony on the sidewalk in front of our house honoring the two little people who did not stomp on the cupcakes on their way out of the vehicle. They were pleased with themselves, and I with them. I triumphantly placed the huge, undamaged tray of cupcakes on the kitchen counter and heaved a sigh of relief that they were safe.

“Now, to unload the rest of the van,” I said to myself, “Oh, wait, I need to put away the – Virgil!” Those were my innermost thoughts. What I believe I actually said was, “Aaaaagh – NO! – Vir – UGH – stupid – get OFF – IDIOT UUUUUUUGGGGH!”

The brain of a complex organism like a person or a cat is a soft, grayish structure protected by the bony skull. It has a wrinkly surface, called the cortex. The more wrinkles, called gyri and sulci, the more thought processes possible, usually translating into “smarter.” Virgil’s brain is perfectly smooth, I am positive.

And there he was, looking at me, bemused by my apoplectic fit, sitting squarely on the box of cupcakes. He stayed put, even as I approached him waving my arms wildly and spouting disjointed words. I felt like I was in a scene from “The Matrix”, moving in super-slow-motion, as if through water or thick syrup, while he sat blithely in his awesome new spot and watched my approach. He’s not smart enough to be afraid, even at a time like that. In fact, instead of jumping to get away from me, he hunkered down on top of the box, ensuring trauma to all the cupcakes.

I actually had to remove his roughly 15-pound body from the crushed box, as he had apparently found the best seat in the house. And there they were: 30 pink and yellow cupcakes with plastic ladybugs and flowers smashed deeply into their tops, icing squashed and smeared – an incredible, yet thankfully, due to modern wrapping technology, still edible – mess.

Unlike Walter, our dachshund, who is far too short to reach the cupcakes, but no doubt has dreams about eating 30 of them in one sitting, Virgil was never really interested in tasting them. He was fixated on the box – determined to claim it before his cat brother, Wyatt.

What would make Virgil do such a thing? Simple – he’s a cat! Cat owners, try this: place an object like a piece of paper or, better, a box somewhere in your house where the cat has access. Look at your watch. And there you are. In the time it took you to look at your wrist, a cat has appeared and is now sitting on the object in question.

Anytime I am seeking an important paper in my home, I usually find it under a cat. Why do they do that? It’s about two things. First, cats are notoriously curious. Stuff that enters their environment with new, strange and potentially interesting smells on it must be thoroughly investigated. In this regard, cats and dogs are similar.

The second phenomenon is particular of cats. If a new object can be sat upon, it will be. Boxes are potentially new perches, observation points or sleeping spots. The uses for such things must be studied immediately. It may be a bit about ownership and control, and a whole lot about annoying somebody.

Oh, those pathetic-looking cupcakes went to school the next day, and my daughter was still thrilled to dole them out to her friends and teachers. We offered up no explanation as to the condition of the box or the roughly-treated cupcake contents, and none was requested. As far as I was informed, all cupcakes were happily consumed. Apparently, it is not uncommon for treats to arrive at preschool in disarray. Whether it’s, “The dog ate my homework,” or “The cat sat on the cupcakes,” most teachers have heard it all.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinarian Hospital.

Creature Comforts

I was awakened at 3:15 a.m. by the smell of a skunk wafting through the open windows of my bedroom.

The smell dragged me to consciousness so abruptly, it took 30 full seconds for me to comprehend where I was, much less why I was now awake. I am not fond of being awake at that hour, particularly when I am expected to be at work a few hours later.

So, here I was, lying in bed, fully awake, but unable to open my eyes for longer than a few seconds at a time (partially due to my need for sleep, partially due to the horrid, caustic skunk odor permeating everything around me).

Two things struck me as I lay there thinking for the next hour or so: one, how incredibly strong the skunk odor was, despite my room being on the second story of our home in the middle of Williamsport, and two, why I was the only one jolted awake. The fact that my husband was still snoring loudly next to me was no surprise – he could sleep through a natural disaster.

But three dachshunds – I must stress the hound portion of their heritage – were also sleeping soundly in the same room.

Miriam, with the best nose of the bunch, can zero in on a perfectly camouflaged rabbit sitting still as a statue from 20 yards away with one or two sniffs at the end of her leash, rain or shine. With a nose like that, why wasn’t she awake, too?

If the smell was strong enough to burn my nostrils, how could the dogs, with noses many times more sensitive than mine, be sleeping happily at my feet?

Perhaps it was because they were under the covers, where the smell was much less intense. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of the competing smell of my feet – or at least I hope not.

As Walter seems to prefer to sleep ON my feet with his nose pressed against them every night, it’s hard to believe the atmosphere is too offensive under there, but who knows in my years of clinical experience I can say without a doubt that dogs are weird. Walter certainly is no exception.

For some reason, my dogs don’t act as if they care about skunk odor at all, even when I take them out at night and it is clear to me that a skunk recently has been in the neighborhood, they make no indication that they are remotely interested or concerned.

Rabbits, sweet and gentle, are my dogs’ arch nemeses – as evidenced by the ridiculous barking at 6 a.m. almost every day (sorry to all my neighbors – so sorry). Perhaps they simply are the product of very specialized German engineering: they were not designed to rid the world of skunks – just rabbits and rats and other such “vermin.”

That being said, I have no idea how my pack of dachshunds would react if a skunk meandered into our area with them running off-lead – I hazard a guess that they’d get a snoot full, and probably mess the poor, unsuspecting skunk up pretty thoroughly anyway.

When I was a kid, my parents took our then terrier pup for a walk at the local junior high school early one summer morning while my sister and I slept.

It was a morning no different from many others that summer with one exception.

Tigger, the pup, on his usual canvassing of the wooded area surrounding the football field came upon a baby skunk.

Apparently, he conducted the introductions in the normal doggie way, only to find that sniffing this “puppy’s” rear end was a very unpleasant experience, indeed. Fortunately, the skunk didn’t actually touch Tigger, and Tigger was too surprised to pursue the relationship further, so no potential for rabies exposure occurred (a very real concern whenever wild creatures make contact with pets or people).

The smell woke me up that morning, too, I do recall. I’d be willing to bet most of our neighborhood was aware of the skunk drama, too.

I remember drifting outside to the backyard, still in a haze from sleep (it was still very early) to find my parents grumbling in undertones at Tigger, a soggy, smelly, sad mess struggling mightily to escape the bath he was getting in the big, old-fashioned galvanized washtub.

My parents didn’t have tomato juice, so Tigger had the most expensive bath of his life – in V8 juice.

Yeah, that didn’t work well, at all.

I can still remember the smell that came off him for weeks afterward, especially after he’d get wet on a rainy day. There really is no mistaking that smell.

Nowadays, we can benefit from some newer products out there that can do a bit of a better job to remove the odor of skunk spray from our pets, but it seems the most effective method is something that can be mixed up at home.

The recipe, discovered in 1993 by an astute chemist, Paul Krebaum, has been circulating via word of mouth and the internet ever since – because it actually works to neutralize the odor at a molecular level.

Isn’t science wonderful?

Here is the recipe, taken from Krebaum’s website:

The skunk remedy recipe

1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide

1/4 cup of baking soda

1 to 2 teaspoons liquid soap

Combine ingredients in a plastic bucket and mix well.

For very large pets one quart of tepid tap water may be added to enable complete coverage.

Wash pet promptly and thoroughly, work the solution deep into the fur. Let your nose guide you, leave the solution on about 5 minutes or until the odor is gone. Some heavily oiled areas may require a “rinse and repeat” washing.

Skunks usually aim for the face, but try to keep the solution out of the eyes – it stings. If you have any cuts on your hands you might want to wear latex gloves for the same reason.

After treatment, thoroughly rinse your pet with tepid tap water.

Pour the spent solution down the drain with running water.

Never, ever store mixed solution in a closed bottle, sprayer, etc. Pressure will build up until the container bursts. This can cause severe injury.

For lots of information about Krebaum and his recipe, including some excellent answers to frequently asked (and infrequently asked) questions, visit his website:

A heartfelt note of thanks is due to Krebaum for his generous gift to all pet lovers in sharing this concoction with anyone and everyone.

Countless tomatoes have pointlessly lost their lives in the past, and now can be spared the indignity of being used as a saucy (rather ineffective) dip for skunked pets. I’m not sure how many other vegetables have seen the same fate, but I’m guessing not too many other families tried V8 juice for this purpose.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.