Saturday, August 28, 2010


Last year we had 11 skunks taken out from under our house in New Mexico. This year, despite our best efforts, I know there are at least two who have moved in and a neighbor thinks there might be a whole family of them. This time, I got some traps of my own, as the cost of calling Critter Control to come back again and again was getting out of hand. Daniel, who did the job for us last year, was very friendly and efficient, but there were so many skunks, and he usually only set one trap at a time. Consequently, removing them all of them cost a pretty penny.

After they were gone, what I called a Guard Kitty -- a big bruising male tabby -- took up residence and chased away any skunk that tried to make its way under the house. He was very good at his job! One time I was there and a skunk got by him; he went after it under the house and there was a War. I could hear them fighting quite loudly under the floor, and then after a bit I could smell (OMG!) the struggle. I had never encountered such a strong and pungent skunk smell. It seemed to permeate everything, and I had an intense physical/emotional reaction to it. It was really very much a fight or flight reaction. The brain gets into a very strange and almost trance-like state. I was aware of how strongly I was responding, but at the same time I was able to function sufficiently to take steps to counter the stink. It's fairly easy.

Vinegar. Just place bowls of it or spray it wherever the skunks smell is, and within minutes, the smell is gone.

The War continued under the house for a while, so even though I was using vinegar to counteract the skunk's determined efforts to make the Guard Kitty leave it alone, the animal kept spraying for some time. I wound up using a whole bottle of vinegar. Ran out! Ultimately, the struggle stopped with the skunk being chased out by the cat never to return. And by that time all the vinegar -- and the smell -- was gone.

The Guard Kitty (a feral that just showed up one day) got plenty of praise, of course, and he was great at keeping all skunks out for the entire winter. Then he disappeared. I think he may have moved down the street, as I saw a cat that looked remarkably like him crossing the street a block and a half away from our house this spring, but I'm not sure.

I've repeatedly blocked up the likely entrance holes, and I set up a one-way door so that if there are animals under the house they can get out, but the creatures are strong and clever. They have found many ways to dig under and around all my efforts to close up the entrances they have created for themselves. This will be an ongoing project. And as soon as I get back to New Mexico, the traps will have to be employed.

Daniel would take his captives out to Otero Canyon outside of Tijeras to drop them off. It's 27-30 miles or so. A neighbor just sort of shrugged and said, "They'll come back." Sure enough. Daniel claimed that once trapped, the skunks were very docile, and he had never been sprayed by one in all the time he had been handling them. We'll see... I dunno about that docile thing, but the catch and release traps are mighty cool. The skunks, it is said, cannot resist Little Debbie snack bait. So. That's one of the projects for my next trip out to the High Desert.

Meanwhile, the menagerie around our house in California has been growing. Our longtime companion cat, Mao, had kept all other animals off his property. He was extraordinarily territorial; he would not allow any cat or any other large creature to come close. He would fight them off, sometimes the struggles were fatal for the other creature. When Mao died, though, the others started showing up around here after a few months, and one, The Girl Cat, just waltzed right in the house and took up a position on Gramma Betty's lap. She loved it. Betty passed away a year ago in July, and the menagerie keeps growing. There are now seven or eight neighborhood cats that love to hang around -- and get fed -- at our place, but only two are genuinely "ours," plus there are assorted squirrels and birds and occasional rodentia, and now raccoons and (we're told, though I haven't seen them) opossums. Whoo-hoo!

We have a statue of St. Francis in New Mexico. I've seen one -- life-size -- at one of the specialty/antique stores nearby that I'm thinking of getting for our house here in California.

One of the raccoons has been really appealing since his arrival, so much so, I wonder if he is someone's pet. He comes over from the neighbor's yard across the street. They used to have a yippie dog, but they don't have any pets now. I'm wondering if they know they have a 'coon?

Anyway, the creature waddles across the rather busy street just around sunset, waddles up our driveway, greets the assorted cats that are hanging around, and looks for some food to eat. Usually it can find something, and it will chow down for a while, as the cats look on. Typically, the 'coon will take a break in its munching, particularly if it is hot, and get something to drink or just go into the backyard to rest. It will turn over on its back and sprawl belly-up, with its face looking -- well, smiling -- right at you. It's done this numerous times. But the other day, it found a garden hose with a trigger sprayer on the end. I think it must have used the trigger to sprinkle part of the driveway, for I found it on its back, belly up, in a fresh puddle of water, the hose and the trigger beside it, the animal grinning from ear to ear. It was a very hot day. The 'coon was cooling off. I tried to get a picture, but the batteries in my camera died.

We have all kinds of birds at both houses, too, something that surprises most people when they know there are all sorts of outdoor cats around. The birds seem pretty capable of defending themselves, though, and some of them, like the blue-jays, love the catfood and they will harass any cat that dares to get in its way.

While this is an OT post, it does relate to the problem of predators that I brought up in an earlier post. Cats, of course, are predators. Yet their prey seems to be very happy and healthy and not particularly subject to predation, though one of the cats caught a mouse for me the other day.

I'll try to get into the topic more over the next week or so.

(I have some short movies of the raccoon's antics, and if I can get them edited and uploaded, I'll try to post them here as an Update. No guarantees...!)

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