Ask an expert: What is digging up my yard? The nose knows!

When a homeowner finds mysterious divots and diggings in flower beds and lawns the culprit may be none other than the striped skunk. If the damage is caused by a skunk, there is information that must be considered.

At our Mother’s Day dinner last Sunday, we had sour cream on the table that turned out to have a “best by date” of May 14th on it – May 14th, 2018 – as in a year ago. It had been hiding somewhere in the back of one of our refrigerators. (We have a fridge in the garage, as well as the kitchen)

When I tasted it on my baked potato, I thought, “hmm, there’s a little bit of an extra kick to this sour cream,” but I ate it anyway. We all ate it actually, and we’re all still living. My son said, “sour cream is sour when you first buy it anyway, isn’t it?” After the discovery, I was reminded of a concept. Here’s the explanation:

There are certain simple, folksy tests that we use in our speech and in our everyday living. One is the “duck test.” If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc. then, it’s a duck.

Cheech and Chong, the irreverent comedy team, made a movie years ago which had a scene relating to the same type of test. It dealt with something foul you might step into on a sidewalk, not long after a dog has been in the area.

And as I think of it, that’s really all that needs to be said about it here in a family newspaper. (Those of you who saw the show and remember it, know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, I’d say don’t bother to research it or view it.)

And this brings me to the “smell test.” This test takes on at least two different forms. The first is figurative. For instance, let’s say that you have been approached by a guy who tells you that you can make a million dollars in six months’ time.

All you have to do is put up five thousand dollars as an investment in a gold mine in Uzbekistan. It’s a sure thing. And, by the way, the guy makes a point to tell you that he’s a “good church going church guy.”

If your nose is functioning properly, this proposed deal “smells fishy.” Therefore, it doesn’t pass the smell test. (By the way, I fell for a deal kind of like that years ago when my nose wasn’t working too well. But that’s a story for another day.)

The second “smell test” is literal. This is when you go to your basement food storage room and bring up a bottle of stewed tomatoes with a date of 1994 scrawled on the lid. You open the bottle and the contents are bubbling and belching.

You get close enough to get a whiff and detect that the odor just doesn’t seem right for stewed tomatoes. This is not the time to say, “Oh what the heck, let’s eat them and see what happens.” This is the time to say, “Hmm, even though 1994 was a good year, these tomatoes don’t pass the smell test.” And down the drain they go.

Years ago I had a “smell test” that involved my dog. Sassy, the boxer, wanted to go out at about 3 a.m. She seemed anxious, so I dragged myself up out of bed and opened the door for her. I knew as cold as it was she’d be right back after she had done her “duties.”

When she came back in a few minutes, she didn’t pass the smell test. She had just had an encounter with “Peppy LePew.” Holy Cow! — was she ever putrid with skunk odor! It makes my eyes water just to think of it now.

After being in the kitchen for a few seconds, I ushered her right back outside where she spent the rest of the night on her chain. I went back to bed for a restless rest of the night, subconsciously knowing the job that awaited me in the morning.

If you’ve never taken part in a post-skunk spraying decontamination procedure, you’re lucky. I’ve had dogs get sprayed a few times over the years.

And, I’ve personally had the experience of being skunk sprayed in a minor way (if there’s such a thing as a minor skunking experience) once. I was out in the field at night changing irrigation water when that happened. I also know first-hand that it’s not a good idea to shoot a skunk while it’s in a nest box in the chicken coop.

Anyway, the next morning after this particular skunking, I knew I had to “face the music.” I rolled up my sleeves for a marathon dog bath. I put Sassy in the tub and got the water running through the hose of the handheld showerhead.

The water ran for more than an hour. We went through tomato juice, special skunk odor remover, bar soap, dog shampoo and people shampoo – in that order. (I’ve heard since that a combination of peroxide, liquid dish soap and baking soda is a “miracle recipe” for de-skunking.)

After toweling the dog off and blow-drying her, I sniffed the top of her head. It was the smell test. Relatively speaking, the odor wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either.

A little later, one of my wife’s friends came to the door. She wouldn’t come into the house. Our home didn’t pass the smell test for her.

After a few days of opening windows during the warmer part of the day, burning a small fortune’s worth of scented holiday candles, and baking cookies a time or two – the place almost seemed acceptable again.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have any major smell test failures for a while — literally or figuratively.

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