Brother skunk (II)

…in which we continue our tale of the downstairs neighbors.

After having skunks spray in the house last January, I am, as you might expect, highly sensitized to their presence: one whiff, and all my panic alarms clang and hammer. So a few weeks ago when my ears and nose told me the black-and-white charmers were back underneath the house, my first impulse was to burst into tears of utter frustration.

My second impulse was to move into a hotel so my throat wouldn’t close up again, then put the house on the market. but instead, I phoned my faithful building contractor (to whom the book Folly is dedicated) and said that I wanted him to start tearing out the deck at one side of the house and not stop until he’e2’80’99d found how the creature was getting in. The access hole for a skunk doesn’e2’80’99t have to be large’e2’80’94they can squeeze through a surprisingly tiny space’e2’80’94but it had to be there. I didn’t care if the entire deck was gone, I wanted it found.

By great good fortune, his men uncovered the place ten feet into the demolition job.

The idiot, the criminally incompetent, the madman who built the house thirty years ago had forgotten to put in one of the foundation blocks, the pieces of two-by-eight that fill the space between the joists where they rest on top of the sill plate. The missing block is under a cantilevered fireplace section, so probably whoever was framing that section just got carried away with the upper portion and simply overlooked it. But there it was, a space eight inches high and fifteen wide, large enough for an entire platoon of skunks to march, shoulder-to-shoulder.

With glee, we blocked it up, called the trapper to take away the skunks that had to be under there, and waited.

Except that we had a piece of blessed luck: for some unfathomable reason, the skunks hadn’e2’80’99t actually moved in yet, but had merely been coming by to cavort in my ducts in the evening. Three lovely, winsome, clever little juvenile skunks appeared on my deck, mystified and peeved that their nice warm evening playground had been lost to them. Around and around they went, ducking under the deck and popping out with puzzled looks on their cute little faces when they came out on top again instead of the big, warm, dark recesses of the crawl space.

Seldom has a construction job had a more satisfying result. When they propped their adorable little feet on the back door to peer in, I thumbed my nose at them gleefully, safe behind a thick pane of glass.

In the interests of public service, I will suggest the following. Mothballs don’t work for me, they just give me headaches. And turning cats loose on wildlife may have unfortunate repercussions, particularly considering the tendency of skunks to spray–and washing a cat with tomato juice is even more thrilling than washing a dog. Most sensible cats will do what mine do, settle in at a safe distance and watch with interest (although a friend told me about a family pet, purported to be half bobcat, that fell into a kennel of hounds and walked away in considerably better shape than the canines, but that’s another story). Noise does help, if you can run a loud radio and some lights in the area they’re moving into, rather like the convenience stores that play elevator music into teenager hangouts. Dribbles of fox urine (from the garden center, lest you have a vivid image of Laurie King following a fox around with a small jar) didn’t do much.

Two things that did help for me were a powder called “Shake Away Small Critter Repellent Granules”, which have some kind of urine as their active ingredient and, although they won’t drive off an animal that really wants to be there (and I’m sorry, but leaving cat food outside should be against the law) they do discourage those critters that are just hanging around, waiting for their magic opening to reappear.

But basically, what works is to find how they’re getting in, and block it off. And here’s how you do it.

If you’re not sure but sort of suspect an area, go out and buy a sack of cheap flour (organic stone-ground not necessary) and sift it evenly over the ground near the foundation. When you find the foot-prints, you’ve found the place.

However, just blocking off the hole is not a great idea because, as one of the comments says, you really, really don’t want a dead skunk in your walls. Or indeed any other creature. So you rig up your Laurie R. King skunk excluder (patent non-pending) and sit down with a copy of her latest book while the device does its work.

You need to buy the sort of humane trap that’s made of heavy wire–Haveahart is the common brand. Look at it to see if you can get the fixed end off–usually it’s held on with wire clips, easily bent and removed. What you want is a wire tunnel that, when the creature passing through steps on the trigger plate, snaps its door shut on the household side, leaving the animal staring puzzled at this metal patch over its hole.

So when you get it home, remove the trap’s solid end and put the entrance end against the place the creatures have been getting in and out. You’ll need to fix the trap firmly so it can’t be shoved aside, and you’ll need to fill in any parts of the hole larger than the trap, so the animal can’t get past it. Set the trigger, and leave it.

If you’re sure there’s only one creature under the house, then one passage through the trap should be sufficient, and you can fill in the hole as soon as you’re sure it’s made its way through the excluder. More than one creature (and there usually are several) means you should go out and check the device every few hours, re-setting the trigger as needed–those outside can’t get in, unless they figure out how to jump over the trigger plate without touching it.

One firm caveat: do not do this at the time of year the creatures are having their young. The babies won’t be able to follow their mother outside, and since she won’t be able to get back in, they’ll die. Better to put up with your neighbors until the young are mobile.

And there you have it.

Now, how many crime writers out there can give you instructions for a skunk excluder?

Next week, the crumpet?

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  1. Cornelia on February 27, 2005 at 6:00 pm

    Skunkishly humane hunting methods indeed!

  2. Jamie on February 27, 2005 at 8:15 pm

    I must say I have been waiting for the end of that story, we have a almost the same problem at our house. I didn’t know you could get Skunks in GA, I’m for Ohio myself, but sure enough I think when I packed my sea-bag up last time I was home on leave these little guys jumped in an headed south…I will be trying out your ideas to get rid of them..Keep up the advice!

  3. Terminaldegree on February 28, 2005 at 2:34 am

    This is off-topic, but I’m not sure if you’ll see my post in the older comments. I’ve (finally, halleluia) figured out how to run spellcheck in Blogger on a Mac. The problem is that spellcheck will NOT work in Safari, and neither will it work in most versions of MS Internet Explorer for Mac. Instead, you might try using Firefox (my favorite browser for the Mac, incidentally). Visit to download.

    Then, in Firefox “Preferences,” under “Web Features,” (assuming you do not want popups), you can still allow popups from only.

    This process worked for me today.

    Now I’ll have to go back and fix the atrocious spelling on my own blog. 🙂

  4. Amy on March 1, 2005 at 12:35 am

    Three years ago there was a major skunk vs. possum rumble under my own humble little home (truly little: a cottage of three rooms). Good gravy. We were skunked three times before the skunk gave up his claim on my basement. By the end of it, my poor, miserable cats had to have a holiday at my mother’s house in order to air out.

    Even today I find some piece of silver hidden away in my jewelery box that whiffs of skunk so much that I have to soak it in vinegar. Something in the chemical makeup of skunk spray adheres to silver, I guess…


  5. Anonymous on July 21, 2005 at 12:36 am

    Ah, memories! When living in Boston my greyhound was skunked and I was late for work that day! I was not about to let her reside in my condo/bed/couch all day while I toiled for the mortgage!

    Quite by accident I discovered that tomatoe sauce works much better than the juice (it was all I had) and you could really ‘work’ it intot he fur. Unfortunately, she shook herself befroe I could get it rinsed off and my bathroom looked like a crime scene.

    Anyway, try tomato paste -a small can will comer a 80 lb. greyhound and a small bathroom!

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