Dogs, Skunks & The Smell of Spring Cleaning

With the Spring Equinox arriving today, I'm ready to begin my annual spring cleaning. But this year--rather than applying myself to my closet and its dusty denizens--I feel more inclined to sift through the clutter that has piled up in my brain over the winter months. It hadn’t occurred to me until the other day that I’d been carrying around extra baggage in my mind until my beloved Dalmatians and a not-so-beloved skunk blasted me with some clarity.

Dogs Will Be Dogs & Skunks Will Be Skunks

One night two weeks ago, our family of black and white spotted Dalmatians introduced themselves to a family of black and white striped skunks, under the pine trees in our backyard. Not surprisingly, none of the six were interested in making friends with each other.

After some hysterical barking, the three dogs came barreling through the dog door covered in skunk “spray”–which is not like an aerosol, but instead a viscous yellow mucous. It was dripping down their muzzles and ears and also into their eyes. The stench was unbelievable. Brad and I dragged them outside to hose them off as fast as we could.

Five years back, I’d discovered an online recipe to “de-skunk” pets who have been sprayed–one recommended by some veterinarians and the Humane Society as well. It uses a combination of hydrogen peroxide, Dawn dishwashing liquid, and baking soda. I had the ingredients on hand, as I’d always feared that our resident canines and a transient skunk would someday tangle in our yard.

De-Skunking Disaster

Unfortunately, after several applications of the magic potion, the dogs still stunk of skunk–as did the house (and, perhaps not surprisingly, both still do). But it was not until the following day that we made the most distressing discovery: the hydrogen peroxide in the mix had worked a queer transformation. My black and white Dalmatians suddenly had ears that were spotted deep brown. Though Dals are born “tricolor” only once in a great while, being black and white and brown disqualifies the dog from competing in the show ring. This disqualification is absolute, regardless of who creates the color–be it Mother Nature’s odd sleight of hand or a loving Mother’s misguided touch.

The spring (and possibly summer) season with my Champion, Mac, has been ruined by hydrogen peroxide–the same fizzy solution my friends and I used in the sixties to turn into bottle blonds. What an incredible disappointment.

No remedy exists for the bleached coat, except to wait for it to shed out and grow back–a process that may take up to six months. After I first noticed that my dogs’ faces now resembled those of “liver” Dalmatians, (as the brown variety of the breed is known), my disappointment assumed epic proportions. Only with the passage of time during the last couple of weeks have I grown a tiny bit more philosophical about the situation.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener (Even Though It May Smell Better)

I remind myself that we all experience frustrations like this, and some of them can be far more fierce than my current predicament. Though one of my main “passions” is showing Mac in the conformation ring, there are surely worse let-downs than this. Patience is required to get past that initial anxiety clenching in your stomach, or the desire just to bawl out loud. Sometimes, however, the ability to laugh at it all can help.

In the spirit of this, I try to see the comical side of my dogs’ black and white faces framed by brown and white ears. At this point I am only succeeding marginally, but I’d like to ascribe my lack of perspective to the short amount of time that has passed since the skunks paraded through our yard. Perhaps it is too soon to be sanguine about it. I am certain that someday this setback will seem as hilarious to me as it does to others right now.

I offer up my skunk story as an illustration of one way we can all deal with the punches of disappointment our lives sometimes deliver. A story is “a map of survival,” as the writer Kai Cheng Tom says, and humor is a great way to handle whatever lets you down–whether it be gently or with a jolt. Just take a step back. And laugh.

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