Parental Warning: The following article contains violence. Be assured that no small mammals were harmed during the process; the same cannot be said for the large one.
Baxter is a formerly feral, mostly outdoor cat who unashamedly cops a ‘tude. Scarred, permanently scowling and scruffy, he channels the ferocity of a junkyard cat toward territorial trespassers or strangers. Growls, screeches and threatening choruses of warnings loudly stake Baxter’s assertive claim to anything he considers a personal possession. His threats are usually respected.
I, too, respect Baxter. He minimally objects when taken for regular check-ups at the vet (although one time he did cast me a disdainful “stink-eye” as if to say “Hey, I thought you said I was going to get ‘tutored!’”). He is pleasant toward the family, tolerates the ever-changing foster animals, ignores the dog, and – with apologies to rodent fanciers, but we live in a heavily-wooded areas – provides excellent vector control. When in the mood, Baxter loves quiet lap time and a little kitty cuddling. On occasion, he teases his four-legged friends into matches of faux wrestling, fiercely pinning them down and licking them into submission.
Not so the errant skunk, possum or other creature of the night that foolhardily wanders into our yard. A few months ago, I watched a Baxter brawl unfold, all over a few table scraps placed outside. Happily enjoying the treat, the large, strong tabby was suddenly approached by a black and white creature of comparable size. Lured by the fragrance and totally unimpressed by Baxter’s meat-muffled grumbling, the animal snatched a sizable chunk and scurried off, only to return in short order for another helping.
Baxter went ballistic. Orange eyes mere slits, coat on edge, tail tripled in size, teeth bared and claws fully extended, he leapt atop the equally determined skunk bent on devouring Baxter’s bounty. The battle was fierce, but short-lived as the skunk, using its most potent weapon, won the war. It sprayed Baxter.
Do you remember McCauley Culkin’s expression when he slapped aftershave on his young, freshly-razored little boy’s face in the movie Home Alone? Now picture it covered in fur and there was Baxter!
Snatching the old boy up, I had no choice but to bring him inside to quickly staunch the stench. From personal experience – now there’s another story – I knew a tomato juice immersion worked minimally at best, but still turned the kitchen into a makeshift triage.
Gob smacked into passivity by the novelty of the situation, Baxter sat stoically in the stink…uh, sink. With no commercial remedies available at the time, I pondered our homeopathic options: olive oil (enough to place one soothing droplet in his eyes) white vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide AND the most versatile cleansing product ever invented – Dawn dish soap! Opting for what logic told me would likely be most effective, I concocted a mixture of the soda, peroxide and detergent.
Towels at the ready, my voice a calm, soft and low murmur of sympathy and condolence, I directed a gentle stream of tepid water over Baxter’s coat and, avoiding his eyes, slathered a handful of the compound over his reeking head, body, limbs and tail.
“And that’s when he tried to rip my face off,” I would later explain to my daughter.
With the speed of a gazelle, Baxter clawed a path up my chest and face, over my head and down my back, launching himself from my bottom and tearing off through the house, stench and suds trailing in his wake. Scrambling frantically across every bed, sliding the length of each uncarpeted floor, into and out of closets, cabinets and cubbyholes, Baxter wanted OUT! And now I was the stunned one – do you recall Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream? Add some red curls to the head and that would’ve been me.
But his escape attempt was futile. Ignoring his hisses and spits, I scooped up Baxter, returned to the torture chamber and resumed his bubble bath. I kept talking; Baxter continued growling. My running commentary, still quiet, but now teeth-clenched and less sympathetic, was monotonous, laden with expletives, many of which I invented on the spot; Baxter’s remarks were equally rude. He managed to swat at me a few more times, but eventually he acknowledged his impotency and simply resigned himself to the inevitable. Once thoroughly rinsed and toweled dry, he smacked me one more time for good measure, then sauntered off for a well-deserved catnap.
A few lessons were learned from the experience: Always keep a proven commercial skunk odor remover on hand; do nothing special to lure or encourage skunks to prowl your property; introduce your cats to manual bathing when they are young; feminine hygiene products (aka douches) work well to wash away any bad smell emanating from an animal; veterinarians routinely perform deodorizing service, oft-times mildly sedating their patient before the procedure and; if he ever has another close encounter of the stinky kind with a skunk, I’m leaving the bathing to Baxter!