The Skunk Before the Storm, or, Rabid Thursday

In case you thought I was taking a few quiet days off after my ups and downs with Gandalf the Grey, my now-hornless Shetland wether, well, I was not.

When the rest of the northeastern U.S. was preparing for Nemo, I was fencing with rabid skunks.

I barely found the shampoo for a much-needed morning shower before the dogs erupted into a barking cacophony.  The hounds were released and I searched to see what the clamor was about.  Nothing.  Probably the wind.

However, I glanced toward the sheep pasture to catch the flock in full whirlpool action.  As I focused on the sheep, I saw the ringmaster -a fluffy black and white shorty, directing the entire show.

Sassy Skunk exercising the sheep

Sassy Skunk exercising the sheep

As soon as it registered that the skunk was why the dogs were barking, I ran to the front door, yelling “Treats!  Hey, come on in, guys!  Mommy’s got treats!!!”  Three pups turned round and zoomed into the front hallway, assuming their seated and attentive positions while I tossed biscuits to each, shutting the door securely behind me.  I have to make sure to do that, because Cricket knows how to open it and let himself out.

The last thing I needed was three sprayed dogs that morning.  So, on to the pasture.  I gazed out the side window and watched in amazement as my sheep ran around and around and around and around, all while being pursued by ‘Sassy’, as I had named him or her.  I thought, “Oh, I should video this!” and tried to find my camera.  Never did figure out how to work the real camera, but you can click on this little movie I took on my phone.

It occurred to me that the sheep were tired and stressed.  So I pocketed my phone and dashed inside the barn, closing the big doors behind me.  I called the sheep from their side door to the pasture and tried to encourage them up the chute, into the safety of the stall.  They were confused, as sheep are want to be, and some of them happily came in while others realized it was the middle of the day and so they lingered outside.  Yogi, my eldest wether, was standing guard admirably.  Finally I convinced them to all come in, sans skunk, and shut the doors safely.

Then I stared out the window for about 10 minutes, waiting out Sassy’s departure.

I locked the barn kitties up in their tack room, lest they should have a run-in, and then made a dash for the house.  Out of the corner of my eye I spied Sassy bee-lining to the chicken yard.  Drat!

I changed course and ran to the chicken yard at the same moment Sassy arrived.  I was hoping that she/he’d be locked out by the Fort Knox style fencing my husband and son installed a few years ago.  No luck.  Sassy snuck through a gap and wrecked havoc on the hens.  I flung the chicken yard door wide open, then flung the coop door wide open, so that everyone had an opportunity to flee.  I was so stressed about the poor hens being stressed, or worse yet, being attacked by the skunk.  I imagined Sassy was after food of some type and was confounded by his/her behavior of just chasing the chickens around and around, the same as he/she’d been chasing the sheep.

Sassy Skunk in the chicken yard

Sassy Skunk in the chicken yard

I threw sticks.  I’m so brave.  I hit Sassy on the head at one point and he/she keeled over onto his/her back.  I was astonished at my aim as well as my strength.  I really didn’t think it was that serious of a blow.  When I realized my power, I thought I’d continue the barrage because at that point I was mostly concerned about my chickens welfare.

Finally the lights went on and I realized that not only was I setting myself up to be sprayed, but Sassy was not quite right and perhaps dangerous.  When Sassy stared me in the eyes and started to run straight at me, I turned and once again hightailed it across the backyard, into the house where I shut myself in safely.

Now for about two hours, the dogs(barking still), the cats(sleeping as always) and I were hostage in the house, making phone calls to no avail.  The State Police passed me off to the Rabies Control Center, the Rabies Control Center passed me off to my local Constables, my local Constables passed me off to the State Police, my State Police passed me off to my Town Clerk, Town Clerk passed me off to my Game Warden, Game Warden(via dispatcher at State Police) passed me off to the local Animal Control

Not kidding.

Finally Animal Control heard what I was telling her and declared she’d have the Game Warden there asap.  When she realized that I’d already been through everyone else a few times already and hadn’t gotten help, then she stepped on it as soon as she realized there were neighbors with children as well as pets that would possibly be exposed to the skunk.

Just ahead of the Game Warden were my save-the-day Polymeadow Farm friends, Jennifer & Melvin.  Melvin hopped out of his truck, carefully managed his rifle or shotgun or whatever it is you use to kill a skunk, and walked cautiously to the backyard.

At the same time, I was on the phone with the Game Warden who warned me to warn Melvin to NOT hit the skunk in the head.  I yelled out the window to Melvin, “Melvin!  Don’t shoot the skunk in the head!”  Melvin replied “I’ll do my best, but I’m going to try to kill it where I can get my best shot at it.”

He did.  Three shots in the tummy.

Cue the funeral march.

The Game Warden collected the body, I bleached the site, and this morning I got the call.  The report was back – Sassy was indeed rabid.

Sassy Skunk Don't Care

Sassy Skunk Don’t Care

23 responses to “The Skunk Before the Storm, or, Rabid Thursday

  1. OMG, yes, sometimes you can get perhaps a bit too much drama, even if you like exciting things and the whole bureaucracy story is funny even if stressful in the moment 🙂 ! does it have any impact on your sheep that it had rabies ?

    • Hi Neils, thanks for the comments. The whole drama was rather comedic, especially the bureaucracy, but I was happy for it to end without too much fall-out, except for the poor departed skunk. All of my mammals on the property are vaccinated against rabies, so that would have been hopefully the coverage they would’ve required had they encountered the skunk any more closely. I am not vaccinated, though! I’m glad I could run as fast as I could, it was not very smart of me to try to shoo it away, but at the time I was just thinking about keeping it away from my flocks!

  2. Whoa! That would definitely explain its wacko behavior. How terrifying, and how brave you were in defending yourself, your flocks, and your neighbors. Hooray for you and hooray for Melvin.

  3. Well, Kelly, I wasn’t terrified. Only I was ruminating about gun control and my lack of ability to take care of this matter myself(second time this past week) and who did I know that could help, and etc.. Everyone I talked to told me I needed to shoot the skunk. The idea of me shooting something was what was terrifying. I was actually anxious about my poor hens, anticipating their nerves being shot and ruining the egg-laying production around here for a month!
    The hens haven’t missed a beat. Your sister made the excellent observation that perhaps small brains = short memories 🙂

  4. OMG – my worst nightmare! OMG – my worst nightmare. OMG – my worst nightmare. Did I say that this is my worst nightmare! You absolutely did the right thing … except you should have called Melvin very first thing … Sassies behavior was absolutely atypical (that is, typical for a rabid animal). Running after things (including you) should have been a sure tip-off. I’m so glad everyone is OK. Are you fairly certain she didn’t nip any of the sheep or the dogs? You should keep an eye on all of the livestock over the next month or so to look for evidence of even the slightest behavioral changes (remember, rabies is a neurologic disorder) – anyone acting weird should be taken to the vet – ASAP. Those of us here at Pairodox have mixed feelings about firearms but we do have the wherewithal to dispatch animals when needed (it is important – as you now know). We have had our own experiences with animals we thought to be rabid ((a bat) and testing at the State Diagnostics Bureau – negative, whew) as well as with the local authorities in dealing with similar matters (ours involved a Rattlesnake which we ended up catching ourselves and taking for a 10 mile ride in the back of the truck – it was no one’s job apparently). Anyway … your story is going to give me nightmares. Again – glad you had the presence of mind to deal with the situation correctly. You did not panic and did however do what needed to be done to protect you and your animals. You’re a good farmer – yes, indeed. I’m shaking! D

    • First I had to pick myself up off of the floor after reading about the rattlesnake….I could barely type that without shuddering. We’ve had 3 different incidences of rabid animals/humans being bit that I know of in the past 5 years or so around here. And about 23 years ago, in the summer after Jim & I first moved here, there was a rabid raccoon in the backyard. My neighbor that lived across the street, retired, came right over and shot it for me then.
      It was a blessing in disguise that the skunk was a skunk. Had it been a fox, I might’ve encouraged my dogs to chase it away before recognizing it as rabid, and that would’ve been bad. But I was so intent on keeping me, keeping anything, from being sprayed by the skunk, that I was cutting an intentional wide berth. It was when it finally occurred to me that I the skunk was probably sick that I stayed inside. I realized the fowl would be alright as far as transmitting the disease. My horses were in the back pasture the whole time and did not encounter the skunk.
      I will be watching everyone,, but I’m really concerned about where it came from in the middle of the winter, where/how it became infected in the first place. It was a gorgeous specimen.
      Thanks for the thumbs up – I didn’t credit myself for having presence of mind. No, not this silly lady that paused to take photos 🙂

  5. You are having an exciting month! I think if I lived in a rural area I would probably get a gun….and I would probably end up shooting myself in the foot or something equally as embarassing.

    Good job, glad you got your dogs in the house. That could have been a rabies disaster!

    • Yes, you called it – this month feels like it should be over with by now! I’m so ready for a boring week!
      I agree, the pups encountering the skunk, armed with spray & rabies – a nightmare!
      Thanks for the pop-by and encouraging comments!

  6. I grew up on a farm and I don’t think we ever had that much excitement! (except for the time we gave mouth to beak resuscitation to a drowned chicken) That is an amazing skunk story!

  7. Never a dull moment. 🙂 Yes, the instant you see a skunk in broad daylight coming toward critters or yourself, it has rabies. Skunks, or any creature, that has rabies will attack even a car tire, bless their hearts. You are so brave and resourceful! And look how God sends you help! Thanks for sharing, and inspiring me.

  8. I agree Tammy, never a dull moment in the lives of the White Family! Thankfully you and all your animals are safe and sound. Very scary to have a rabid animal around, you did the right thing! Thanks for the entertaining story and video!

    • Still wondering what that little skunky was doing in these parts on a winter day…too bad. All the more reason for vaccinating everyone, too, against rabies. Glad I do it for all of my sheep, not just the dogs/cats/ horses.
      See you and your crew this spring, hopefully, for some chick-time! Thanks for the visit, Julie!

  9. Wow! It’s not every day you run into a confirmed rabid animal- glad you all made it through unscathed.

    • Thanks for the visit, Michelle. No, it isn’t every day. The last time there was a rabid animal here, it was 23 years ago and it was a raccoon in my raspberry patch. My neighbor, who has long since passed, came right over and shot it with his 22-rifle. No fuss. No bleach, even. I said to my daughter that I hadn’t even realized then that I should bleach the area that it’d been shot in. Anyway, I hope it is at least another 23 years before I should encounter another rabid animal on the property. Alls well that ends well(except for Sassy Skunk 🙁 )

    • Thanks, Karen, for the stop-by. Yes, I am glad we’re all okay, also. The more I replay the event/the day I realize how very important it was that the skunk commands the respect it does, as that is what kept me from being more agressive in shoo-ing it off the property. I paid less attention to the possible rabies because I was so intent to protect the flocks! Good lessons for all of us! Crazy, crazy – my life is never boring!

    • Thanks! Yes, it all worked out in the end. There was a fair amount of anxiety that day. I never was afraid, except for the hens, and it was more that I was irritated! And sort of amused! But it was a good lesson-day.

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