We Stunk Up Our House — and My Mom’s — When Our Dog Got Skunked

Scalawag tangled with a polecat -- and we were reminded of it for weeks afterward.


A few months back, the newcomers’ book club I belong to was assigned to read Marley and Me by John Grogan. If you aren’t familiar with this book, you will laugh with abandon at some of the antics that Marley the dog puts his owners through.

This book brought me back in time to the very first dog my husband, Don, and I adopted during our first year of marriage. After babysitting this Bengie-type dog, we adopted her and named her Scalawag. Like many dogs we have since owned, Scalawag would get into all kinds of trouble.

It was a cold November Sunday in 1975. After visiting my parents, we returned to our second-story apartment in Brookfield, Wisconsin, with our two-year-old son, Brian. I walked inside with Brian, and Don stayed outside to let Scalawag do her last evening “duty.”

Don heard loud barking, along with a scuffling sound. He walked to the door to let Scalawag in and called for her to get away from the garbage cans. Before he knew it, she rushed through the doorway and up the stairs to our apartment.

I saw this blur of fur run frantically into our front door and the stench nearly knocked me over. Faster than we could blink, Scalawag was rubbing her face on our carpeting, curtains, and all of our cushioned furniture. Don arrived, too late, of course, yelling, “Don’t let the dog get in!”

Never in our lives had we ever been consumed by such a horrible odor. Both of us were screaming “Holy Toledo!” along with other expletives as we watched Scalawag frantically trying to get the smell off of her. No sooner had the three of us arrived back inside than our neighbors started calling, asking, “Is your place on fire?” Thinking back, even a fire would not have smelled as bad.

Don quickly corralled Scalawag. We saw a yellow liquid streaming down her face — she had lost a match with a skunk! We learned, at that instant, only the Devil could manufacture an odor as bad as skunk spray!

After frantically researching our Encyclopedia Britannica, we learned that tomato juice is supposed to get rid of the smell. However, back in 1975, stores were not open late on weekends, and all we had to bathe the dog in were three quart jars of homemade stewed tomatoes. They were so good that we hated to waste them on the dog, but this was an emergency.

We quickly put her in the kitchen sink, cutting as much fur off of her as we could, washing her three times in the tomatoes. Our eyes were tearing up from the smell and we could swear we saw a haze in the air!

After Scalawag was bathed, we opened every window in our apartment, immediately becoming chilled to the bone. We showered and changed our clothes and tried to go to sleep, tossing and turning, to no avail. We could not escape the cold or the stench. Meanwhile little Brian, oblivious, slept through everything.

Leaving Scalawag at home, we piled into the car and drove back to my parents’ home. We rang the doorbell around 2 a.m. Mom opened the door, looking surprised. “Good Lord, what did you get into?” she exclaimed. After a good whiff, she knew immediately what had happened. We pleaded for sanctuary. At first she said, “The Holiday Inn is only five miles away!” but after seeing our crestfallen faces and hearing that we’d bathed ourselves twice, she took pity on us and reluctantly allowed us in.

That following morning, I headed back to our apartment to steam-clean all of the carpeting and furniture, burning incense the entire time. After another shower, Don headed to his nursing school studies at UWM Milwaukee, where friends and strangers alike pinched their noses and would not go near him. Don felt like a pariah in the classroom — the smell did not leave our bodies for almost a week! That entire winter, we left the living room window open and burned candles and incense every time we were home.

A few days later, we called our vet to ask how to prevent Scalawag from getting into another skunk shuffle. He told us that a dog will never learn. We were terrified Scalawag would get into trouble again with a skunk, and luckily, she did not. However, until the day she died nine years later, every time she was wet, we smelled a faint skunk smell. Scalawag entered doggie Heaven knowing what her nose knew: Not to get near a skunk again!

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