Saturday, February 9, 2013
A bit of a stink
We're in a bit of a bind here at Tyche's Run.
A few days ago --3 to be exact, and it turns out to matter -- I stumbled on this creature wandering around the back field. A hawk flew away as I approached.
At first I thought it was a cat, but, um, obviously not. I had my new camera with me, so it seemed a good chance to take shots I wouldn't normally get, else I might have just steered clear and not thought any more about it. As it was, the more I watched, the more concerned I became. My first thought was that it suffered lingering shock from a hawk attack, and that if left unmolested, it would recover and run off into the brush. In fact, while I watched, its breathing slowed and it started to move around. But I watched for close to an hour and it never ran off, just wandered listlessly around in circles. Periodically it would stop, curl up in a ball and rest. Rabies? Distemper? Maybe starving to death?
Eventually I had to leave for work. I hated to leave it basically collapsed out in the open. I was sure it would be dead by the time I returned. I threw some corn down around it, in case it revived while I was gone and just needed a little pick me up to get itself moving. :)
Unfortunately, when I returned many hours later, the skunk was still there, still curled up in a ball in the middle of the field, though in a different spot. The corn was untouched, the sun was setting, and the temperatures were falling fast towards a predicted low of 20 degrees. It was still breathing.
So I don't know about other people, but I couldn't just walk away and leave it out there in the open, to either get eaten or freeze to death. I also didn't have a lot of time to consider my options, because the 11-year-old and I were already late to a riding lesson.
I knew I couldn't do anything for it if it was seriously ill, but I could help with the cold. I stuffed a cat crate with some straw and carried it out to the field. I intended to just leave it there for the creature, to provide some cover if it wanted it. It didn't react at all as I approached, so I walked right up and put the carrier down next to it. When I stepped away, the little thing slipped right in, like a duck diving into a pond. Surprised by its enthusiasm, I carried the crate over to the old barn. At least it would be warmer and out of the wind there. I put it down inside one of the stalls that used to house goats or sheep, but is now used only by wild animals and the occasional stray cat as far as I can tell. If it was going to die, it would be more peaceful in the barn than in the open. If it recovered and was gone in the morning, even better.
I could have stopped there, couldn't I have? Of course not. If the creature's only problem was winter starvation, it didn't cost me anything to leave out some food and water. A couple of apples, some kale leaves, a plate of chicken feed and a bowl of water later, I figured I'd done everything I could and we were off to ride.
The exact time course beyond this is a bit fuzzy now. I think on Thursday morning there was no change, but I thought I could still hear the creature inside the crate, so I let it be. By Thursday night, I could see that the straw had been pushed aside by something going in and out of the crate. Friday night, the water was completely gone and one of the apples was missing. I left another bowl of water, another apple, and some cherry tomatoes. Today, Saturday morning, the water, all the tomatoes, all the apples, and now all the chicken feed is gone. Apparently the skunk doesn't care for kale. Now I can clearly see the skunk inside the crate, beyond the straw that has been pushed down by his coming and going.
It's been three days. The skunk hasn't died. Its appetite has improved. It can't be rabies, though it might still be distemper. Or it might have been starving. It's very small. You can see in the crate that it isn't a lot bigger than a large kitten. Maybe this is its first winter. I'm sure the past few weeks have been hard on all the wildlife.
I have no idea what to do with it, other than stay on course and hope that it recovers well enough to leave on its own eventually. I'd rather it not take up residence in one of the abandoned groundhog burrows in the old barn, but that's one of those things I should have thought of before I put the crate there. The stronger the little fellow gets, the less inclined I am to approach the crate, for obvious reasons. For all I know, its been living in the old barn all along anyway.
Oddly, I just heard about the couple in Indiana who got in trouble for saving and keeping an orphaned deer in their backyard. After 2 years, a neighbor turned them in to the state DNR. The DNR wanted to euthanize the deer. Another neighbor objected to this solution and set the deer free. The DNR then filed charges against the couple. Oy. In any case, had I called our DNR to start with, the skunk would be dead now. Instead, it's in the old barn and I'm in a bind.