Skunk + Basement + Valentine’s Day + Rifle

Here’s a true story that happened to us on Valentine’s Day, 2002. (If you like better stories told way better than I do, check out Cliff. This is all I’ve got.)

It had started snowing that morning. By evening, temperatures were very cold and there were about 4 inches of snow covering the ground. I went outside to get our cat into our garage for shelter, and was looking down at our window well when I got a surprise. For those of you that don’t know what a window well is — it’s a dug-out area that permits one to crawl out of a basement window in an emergency, and is usually a hold about 5 feet below ground level right next to the foundation of the house.

Anyway, there was a skunk down there. It was a cold skunk, and it was hiding in one corner.

So you can imagine, this causes several problems. I certainly don’t want to crawl down there for the obvious reason. Plus, there was somewhat of a rash of rabid skunks that year, so there was no telling if this skunk could infect me. For whatever reason, I grabbed a long stick and gave him a poke or two (I was still firmly on the ground and the skunk was still a good five feet beneath me.) This made him start digging a hole in the corner of our window well (which has a sand bottom). Argh.

Read on for more

So I do what anyone does with a vexing wildlife problem: call dad. He suggested giving the skunk a ramp to get out of there. So I put a board down there at a good angle. Left it there overnight. The stupid skunk wouldn’t use it!

So the next morning, I have to go in to work like usual. I start calling around to see who can take care of a skunk for me. I’m not a hunter and don’t own any firearms, so I can’t shoot it.

First, I call 911. They tell me that they definately do not shoot skunks. Perhaps I should call the city pest control? Can’t do that, I’m outside the city limits.

Next, I try the county health department. They’d be glad to fill out some paperwork for me after I kill a skunk, but they have nobody that could do that for me.

Hmmm… I do some work and ponder this for awhile…

Inspiration! I call the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, infectious desease division. I tell them that I have a very sick skunk stuck in my window well, and that it looks highly diseased. Certainly a serious health risk, and nobody can take care of it. This got their attention and they promised to check around and call me back shortly.

I got a call back from the county health dept. They had just received a call from “The State” and were told that the Sheriff will take care of my skunk. I call 911 back, and sure enough, they dispatch a deputy.

So I head home to meet him. He shows up….

Deputy: So you’ve got a skunk.

Me: Yep.

Deputy: You know where he is?

Me: Oh yes, he’s not gone anywhere since yesterday.

Deputy: Great! (gets very excited, and goes to get rifle from car) Usually they run away before I get there.

So I show him the skunk. It’s about 6 inches from the window. Deputy says, “hmmm, can’t use buckshot that close to the window.” He fires at the skunk. Killed it the first time. I watch it spray its spray directly on our house. And smell it. Deputy shoots it twice more, “just to be sure.”

So it’s dead.

Me: What do I do with it now? The ground’s frozen. Can’t bury the thing.

Deputy: Hmmm. (thinks about 5 seconds.) Just throw it out with your trash.


So I go down there with some gloves, a shovel, and a 3-layer trash bag. I almost gag several times, the stench is so bad. I haul the thing off to our trash bin. Then I go inside to shower.

Uhoh. Our house smells worse than I do. I shower, then get back to work ASAP.

Call back the county health department.

Me: Uhm, what do I do with a dead diseased skunk? The deputy said to throw it out with my trash.

County: Hmm. Nobody has ever asked that before. I’ll have to call the state.

… 30 minutes later …

County: The state says, “We don’t know. I guess if the deputy told him to throw it out with his trash, he should.”

Me: I don’t think they’ll take our trash if it smells like a rotting diseased skunk, and has a decomposing animal in it.

County: Well, you can at least try.

They took it.

The rest of the afternoon, about 1 in 5 people walking through my office area would stop. Sniff the air. Look around, confused. Finally ask, “does anyone smell a skunk down here?” My co-workers took great delight in saying that it was me, and also in reminding me that I could take a sick day for this.

Now our problem was the house. Even though the skunk was never indoors, the place reeked. We spent two nights at my parents’ place, and our clothes smelled like skunk. Everything smelled like skunk. A combination of an ozone generator, “Skunk-Off”, and an exterminator’s chemicals helped control it, finally. Closets and the basement still had a smell for a month, and we could smell it at least once a week in the basement for 6 months.

You can’t imagine how helpful people want to be when they hear of skunk issues. I got an amazing variety of hints of what I should have done to prevent the smell. Here are some:

  • Just wait for it to die, then haul it off
  • Flood the window well, drown the skunk, then haul it out
  • Trap the skunk, then be very quiet while you life it out of the window well
  • Seal off the top of the window well, then run a hose from your car’s exhaust to the window well, suffocating the skunk.
  • Trap it, then shoot it.
  • Pour tomato juice on the skunk.
  • And of course, the “combo plan”: trap it, then haul it up quietly, then lower the trap (quietly) into a bucket of water to drown it.

To this day, on warm, moist days when we’ve been gone, our noses remind us of that Valentine’s Day two years ago. And we decide which state we’ll visit for that day this year.

6 thoughts on “Skunk + Basement + Valentine’s Day + Rifle

  1. John, It would seem a skunk in a window well is like have a mouthful of scalding coffee. Whatever you do next will be wrong.
    Great story! Cliff

    1. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the ads on the front page are advertising skunk-related products. But every page is. Even those that have not one word about skunks or anything relating to them. Perhaps people pay much more for the word “skunk” than for “MythTV” or “Debian” :-)

      I wonder if people are actually clicking on all these skunk ads…

  2. This morning, we closed on the sale of the house we’ve been in since 2002.

    We’re excited about Grandpa’s farmhouse that we’re having renovated, and it will be great when we get to move in there in December or January.

    But it’s sad to leave the place

  3. I think the best thing to have done is to leave a ramp down for it to get out and ignore it. Go to work. Chances are when you got back from work it would be gone. You went to a lot of trouble and in the end the skunk ended up dead and you ended up with a stinky house. Skunks eat a lot of mice and vermin and unless they get into your house they should not be a problem.

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