This one I dedicate to Brigid. And Barkley.
It was many years and several good dogs ago. I was on one of my many camping trips and I was staying in a rustic state campground with my faithful, loyal Golden Retriever, Brandon. It some time after dark, and I was walking Brandon around one of the two loops in the campground on our pre-bedtime walk, looking at all of the other campers. I was in the other loop, and this one was filled with bicyclists who were on some long, multi-day ride. Like me, they were all camping here this night, and like me, they had their tents all set up and their fires going, and were undoubtedly looking forward to a nice, relaxing evening under the pines. The campground was at peace. The world was at peace.
Cue the dumb-ass. And on this summer's evening, that would be a much younger, slightly inebriated me.
I was walking with Brandon when suddenly he stopped and went into his "I see something" stance. He let out a low growl, and in the beam of my flashlight, I saw a creature run across the road ahead of us. And because I was young, and a city boy ignorant of things in nature, (and because I'd had a few beers,) I reached down, unclipped Brandon's leash, and gave the fateful command: "Go get it!"
Admittedly I was thinking that it was something that he could just chase around for a bit like he did the neighborhood cats. It never dawned on me that he might actually catch whatever it was. But catch it he did. He grabbed the creature and began shaking it for all he was worth. The threw the creature about ten feet, and before the creature could get back up again, Brandon the formerly gentle and docile Golden Retriever was on it again. I ran over, fumbling for my flashlight. "What is it, boy? What've you got?"
The answer was revealed to me seconds later when he shook it and threw it again and it landed at my feet. I shone the light down on the small black creature, and I immediately recognized it for what it was: a SKUNK!
"Oh, HELL NO!" I yelled. "Leave it! LEAVE IT!"
But Brandon's blood lust was up. My gentle companion had gone all Cujo and he was having this critter no matter what I said. He ran for it again. I recall seeing the skunk shakily getting back to it's feet.
Now until this time, the only skunk I'd ever seen was that French one that used to pal around with Bug Bunny. But even with that sparse understanding of these animals, I instinctively knew what was coming. I backed up fast...then I turned and ran. "Leave it alone, dog!" I yelled. "Leave it!"
The next thing I heard though was a loud yelp. It was anger and shock and pain all rolled into one. And I knew that it wasn't the skunk making that noise. I shone the light and I could just make out Brandon, whimpering and rubbing his face on the ground. And then the smell hit me, wafting over everything like a cloud of mustard gas. Oh, hell...
Brandon came back to me in a few seconds, and as badly as he wanted some sympathy and reassurance, I wanted to keep him at arm's length. He REEKED to the point that I wanted to puke. I managed to get him back to my campsite, and I tethered him to a picnic table and tried my best to wash the skunk off of him with the water that I had on hand. Needless to saw, it didn't come off.
So because he still stunk royally, and because I was worried that the skunk spray might actually hurt him, I left him there and jogged up to the campground pay phones at the junction of the two loops. I flipped through the phone book and found a number for a 24-hour vet. Calling the number, I reached an answering service who put me on "hold" while they rang up their on-call vet. Meanwhile, a group of people walked up and one of them got on the other phone. His call was something like this:
"Yeah, Rudy? Listen, we're are going to be a bit late getting there tomorrow. We've all got to break up our campsites and move somewhere else because some asshole let his dog get a skunk right upwind from us...yeah, we've all got to move in the middle of the night now!"
At this point, the doctor came on the line, asking what the problem was. "Uh, this actually isn't a good time right now, doc..." I whispered. "Let me call you back in a couple of minutes."
Soon enough, the disgruntled bicyclists went back to their packing and I called the vet back. He assured me that no harm would come to the dog, but that it was going to take a lot of washing with tomato juice and vinegar-and-water douches to get the stench off. That, of course, had to wait until morning and a trip home. Brandon manged to do ok out by the picnic table all night, and once the sound of all of the bicyclists breaking camp dissipated, it was actually a peaceful night. The next day, however, saw me trying to drive home with this dog in my Ford Fiesta, which, as anyone familiar with that car knows, doesn't really allow for any distance between occupants. But fortunately, the car was a hatch-back. So with Brandon secured sufficient to keep him from either sliding out the back or getting up into the front, I drove home with the hatch open and all windows down.
And we almost made it without further incident, but as luck would have it, I drove past a state trooper, and he promptly stopped me.
The trooper put his trooper hat on and got out of his car. About half way up, I could tell that the skunk smell was hitting him. He paused, then stepped out into the roadway away from my car as far as traffic would allow.
"I stopped you because your license plate is on the tailgate and it can't be read. But I think I know why your tailgate is open," he said.
"Yeah, my dog kind of got into it with a skunk," I told him.
"OK, the next time you drive the car, make sure that your tailgate is closed. And for the dog...lots of tomato juice and vinegar."
I got the dog home without further incident. He didn't come clean as quickly as I'd have liked, and the smell lingered on him slightly for a couple of weeks, all the more so whenever he got wet. And the Fiesta never did stop smelling like skunk.
And that was the last time that I've ever let one of my dogs off a leash so that he could go play with some harmless woodland creature. Oh, hell no...never again.