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Critter Story: Ms. Skunk
by Pete Stokely, October 1, 2003

A new critter has arrived in our neighborhood. She is a young skunk, who, it turns out, likes cat food, cookies and flowerpots.

Ms. Skunk and I met for the first time when I went into the kitchen for a late-night snack. She was eating cat food right out of the bag. I turned on the kitchen light. She realized she had been discovered. I realized she wasn't a cat. We stared at each other for a few moments.

I was instantly in love. She is one of the most beautiful animals I've ever seen: glossy black with snow-white stripes, immaculately groomed, and with a proud high tail that would make a peacock envious.

I talked to her in what I hoped were reassuring tones. After a minute or so she daintily trip-tripped to the open porch door and vanished into the night. Every time she passed a flowerpot, she stopped to sniff it. I assumed I'd never see her again. This was the first really dumb assumption I was to make concerning Ms. Skunk.

The next night she was back as soon as it became dark. As well-behaved as before, this time she was in no hurry to leave. My presence didn't bother her a bit. Nor did the bright lights, nor the cats, all three of which looked on from a safe distance. She methodically ate all the remaining food, drank all the water and quietly left, again pausing briefly to sniff each flowerpot she passed.

The following night, she decided to explore the house, and got lost.

Quick to spot a trend, I decided it would be wise to end our household's open-door policy before either disaster struck or Ms. Skunk decided to move in permanently and raise a litter in my bathtub.

I told the cats it was lockdown time. All was quiet for several nights, at least with respect to skunks. The cats were another matter. They complained about their loss of freedom. The one that likes to sleep outside wanted to come in. The two that like to sleep inside wanted to go out. Then they wanted to switch. It was getting hard to sleep.

There was no sign of Ms. Skunk, so I decided to relent on the curfew. I decided I would close all the doors except the one to my bedroom. The cats could come and go, as is their historic right. It's a long way from the bedroom to the kitchen so, I reasoned, it would not seem particularly attractive to a hungry young lady skunk.

The first night of this experiment began perfectly. I was reading in bed, with the two "inside" cats sprawled next to me. The last cookie from my snack sat on a plate on the floor, next to the bed. All was peaceful.

Then Ms. Skunk appeared at the door. As sweetly as ever, she trip-tripped around to my side of the bed. She paused to sniff each flowerpot she passed (we have a lot of flowerpots). Then she spotted the cookie. She looked up at me then down at the cookie. She walked up to it, then settled in and spent several minutes savoring it. She eats a lot, but quite neatly.

All this time, her tail was brushing my hand. I was caught between two wildly differing emotions: fear of utter disaster and admiration of what a truly beautiful animal she was. Maybe they all are, but I had never before seen a skunk from, as it were, point-blank range.

The cats, bless them, took all this in stride. They never even stopped purring. I was filled with horrible visions of what might happen if they lost their cool. But everyone was on best behavior. When she had finished eating my cookie, Ms. Skunk simply turned around and slowly trip-tripped back the way she had come. When she had sniffed the last flowerpot and was safely out the door, I closed it behind her.

But this was not quite the end. She returned every 15 minutes or so for the next couple of hours. Each time, she spent a few minutes gently scratching on the door with a paw, exactly like a puppy hoping to be let in. This now happens each night. But to no avail. I have remained firm. The open-door policy is over for good, whether the cats approve or not.

Sorry, Ms. Skunk. No more cat chow with almond cookies for dessert. But you are truly beautiful, and extremely polite and poised as well. Welcome to the neighborhood!


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