Maggie and the skunks
“Thiols” are sulfur-containing organic compounds that stink something awful.
They are what make decaying bodies and feces smell bad, for example, and they are used as an “odorant” to help our noses detect when there's a natural gas leak because natural gas on its own is odorless.
No doubt you're wondering what's put me in this frame of mind, and the answer is Maggie, one of the better known residents of the Historic Stockade district.
Maggie is a relatively young Cairn Terrier –- think Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” -– who takes her job as watch dog most seriously. Though she weighs only a little over 14 pounds, she's only too happy to go after animals twice her size and even larger.
In her mind, Maggie is a German shepherd or maybe a Rottweiler.
She gets along very well with people, including children, and with her two siblings, who are cats, but she doesn't like squirrels much and that's understandable. Cairns were bred to go after vermin on the farms of the Scottish highlands. Their breed is named for the rock piles – the cairns – where rats and other undesirables are likely to hole up.
So, when she gets the chance, Maggie is only too happy to dispatch the unlucky squirrel who sets foot in our back yard.
Unfortunately, she's just as aggressive with other intruders of suspect pedigree, including those nocturnal black kitties with the white stripes down their backs and tails.
And so it was, on a recent early morning, we again found ourselves bathing the plucky lass in the kitchen sink in a solution of warm water, vinegar and gentle soap.
Being sprayed by a skunk is a humbling experience, and Maggie looks terribly depressed as she allows herself to be deodorized. But, evidently it's not a memorable experience – for her, that is – since this was the third time in less than two years.
Later that day, I decided to do a little digging to find out what's the most efficient way to get rid of the residue of skunk when Maggie goes for number four.
It was during this research that I learned about “thiols,” also known as “mercaptans,” the compounds which cause skunk spray, which comes from two grape-sized glands in the skunk's rear end, to smell so nauseatingly bad.
I also learned that the conventional remedy of tomato juice or tomato sauce is not particularly effective and only masks the odor for a while.
Vinegar isn't a bad idea, but the best treatment involves changing the chemical composition of the thiols by adding oxygen.
Mix a quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide with ¼ cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of mild (no ammonia or bleach) dish detergent. Stir it up and the mixture will create oxygen (with the detergent helping to break down the oil in the thiols).
Bathe the pooch's affected area in the solution, and the stench is neutralized.
Do keep it away from the dog's eyes and other vulnerable areas. Do not put a cap on the mixture because it could cause pressure to build up and an explosion to occur.
In the best of all worlds, I won't need this information. Maggie will have learned her lesson after three encounters with a skunk and we'll never again have to deskunkify her at 1 or 2 in the morning.
Anyone else skeptical?
Irv Dean is the Gazette's city editor. Reach him by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.