Publisher’s note: Instead of answering questions from readers, our Edmonds Vet will be sharing stories from his years in practice. If you have a question, you can still submit it in the comment section below and he will address it.
By Dr. David Gross
I extended my hand and the boy with red hair, a wide grin, no front teeth, and lots of freckles took it and pumped once up then down.
“What’s in the sack, Billy?” I asked.
The boy opened the top of the feed sack and showed me a small, shiny black animal with a stark white stripe the length of its back.
“Billy found the baby skunk and he wants to keep him for a pet. What do you think? If we de-scent him, will he make a good pet? I told him I don’t do that kind of surgery, but I was pretty sure you could handle it,” Dr. Schultz smiled.
I joined Dr. Schultz’ veterinary practice only two months previously, directly after veterinary school graduation. I thought I remembered the description of the procedure from a surgery class. I held out my hand and Billy handed me the sack.
“OK Billy, I’ll take good care of him. However,” I squatted directly in front of the boy, “a de-scented skunk is still a wild creature, not like a dog or cat. Do you understand? You will have to be careful around him when he grows up or he might bite you. Otherwise he will make a wonderful pet.”
“I’m going to do this out in the barn. If I nick one of his scent glands, it will stink up the whole hospital. Dick, have we got an old ice chest we can use for an anesthetic chamber?” I asked Dick Mathes, our technician.
Dr. Schultz and Dick followed me to the barn, Dick carrying a hard-used ice chest.
“You ever even seen one of these done,” asked Schultz?
“Nope,” I replied.
I poured ether onto a wad of cotton, dropped it into the ice chest, opened the sack, dropped the baby skunk into the chest and closed the lid. I listened carefully until the skunk stopped moving around, lifted the lid and gave the animal a poke. He didn’t move, but was breathing deeply and regularly, so far, so good.
“Dick, do you suppose you can find some plastic sandwich bags?”
“I expect so. What do you need them for?”
“We’ll need something to put the scent glands in.”
I took the anesthetized skunk out of the ice chest and arranged him on the surgical table, on his belly with his tail tied up over his back. I added ether to a cone designed for a small cat and placed it over the skunk’s muzzle then clipped the entire area around the anus and prepared the skin for surgery.
“Well, the glands are where they’re supposed to be at five and seven o’clock,” I said. “But he’s a she.”
I found the papilla on the right side, clamped it with a mosquito forceps and dissected the gland. To my surprise it peeled out whole, the duct held closed by the forceps.
“As soon as I remove the clamp you need to close up the baggie,” I told Dick.
I deposited the sac in the plastic sandwich bag that Dick held open for me. Only a whisper of scent escaped before the bag was sealed closed. The other sac also came out intact but when I tried to drop it into a second bag, it stuck to one of the jaws of the forceps. I gave the forceps a shake to flip it off. The gland missed the bag and landed directly on the left instep of my new rough-out boots. Skunk fragrance filled the barn. My eyes watered. Dr. Schultz and Dick beat a laughing retreat into the clinic slamming the door behind them.
I tried washing off the boots with the high-pressure hose we used to clean the barn but that did very little to abate the odor. Over the next two weeks, I washed them several times in tomato juice but whenever I walked into a restaurant, or some other warm place, people started sniffing and looking around, the boots were history.
Dr. David Gross of Edmonds graduated from Colorado State University’s veterinary school in 1960 and was in private practice for 10 years. He retired in 2006 as Professor and Head of Veterinary Biosciences, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Gross is the author of “Animals Don’t Blush,” which describes the unique patients and even more unique clients of a veterinary practice in Sidney, Montana in the early 1960s. The book is available at the Edmonds Bookshop.