I love wild animals, but don’t want them living under my house!

A couple of months ago, a skunk moved in under my house. I didn’t actually see it, so how did I know it was a skunk? If you’ve ever smelled skunk spray, it’s not something you forget. The pungent, musky smell hangs in the air for a long time. I had smelled it a couple of times in the early evening, so I knew there was one prowling about.

My two dogs confirmed my suspicion one night when I let them out for their last pee. As soon as I let them out, they ran around the fenced area like crazy, sniffing the ground (clue #1). My littlest dog then went to the lattice enclosure around the bottom of the deck and was obviously very interested in something (clue #2).

The next morning I saw some small animal tracks under the bird feeder (clue #3). Skunks have five toes on each foot, and claws that extend from each toe. The claws make deep tracks on the fore feet, unlike a cat, which retracts its claws. The hind foot leaves the mark of a heel pad that is usually between two and two-and-a-half inches. 

Okay, so a skunk had been in the yard last night, probably attracted to the spilled sunflower seeds below the feeder. I began checking to see if there was any place where a small animal could get under the house. A skunk, which is about the size of a small housecat, could squeeze between the lattice framwork around the deck. Then I noticed a depression where a critter had dug to get under the house. So, there was indeed a skunk living under my house.

The negatives to having a skunk living under your house are: 1) they can contract and spread rabies; 2) they can dig burrows or tunnels under there; and 3) if they find an opening, they can get inside your house. Three very good reasons for not having a free-loading skunk as a boarder.

I removed the bird feeder and cleaned up all the spilled seed. At least I wouldn’t be aiding and abetting the intruder. I was trying to figure out how to get the skunk to leave when my dogs took care of the problem for me.

The next night, I let them out and right away smelled the skunk, but it was too late. The dogs lit out after something in the dark. I held my breath, waiting to see what would happen. I was anticipating having to deal with two very stinky dogs, but miraculously, they didn’t get sprayed.

Turns out, the skunk took his leave that night. I made a mental note to close up that opening under the house. Problem solved.

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Unsung heroes in the fight against Lyme Disease

My first up-close encounter with a possum was one evening years ago when I went into the feed room to get feed for our horses. I was used to seeing these hairy, grayish animals flattened on the road, their lives abruptly and unceremoniously ended while out on a nightly prowl, but I was not expecting to see this 18-inch-long freeloader wedged under the feed bin. A closer look prompted a couple of low hisses from the hapless creature, but it didn’t move—it was probably as surprised to see me as I was to see it! I had unknowingly put out the welcome mat for this visitor when I forgot to close the feed room door that morning. I got my feed and left the door open, hoping it would take its leave the same way.

Photo: Google images

The oft-maligned opossum is actually a fascinating creature that suffers from an image problem. Frequently perceived as a dim-witted, rat-like scavenger whose most impressive trick is mimicking roadkill, this creature has one spectacular virtue that just might transform the aversion of some for this odd, waddling mammal into at least tolerance.

Turns out possums are the unsung heroes in the fight against Lyme Disease. Large numbers of the ticks that carry the Lyme disease bacteria are found on mice, shrews, squirrels, and chipmunks, but not so with the opossum. Researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY found out why. Several opossums were placed in cages and covered with ticks. The researchers waited for the biting ticks to jump off and counted how many escaped the mammal’s voracious appetite. The opossums ended up grooming off and eating over 95 percent of the ticks that landed on them. Experts estimate that a single possum can eat as many as 5,000 ticks in one season!

Typically, possums go about their business so quietly that you won’t even know they’re around. What should you do if you do happen to encounter a opossum? Absolutely nothing! Possums seldom stay in one place for more than a few nights, so fears of them “moving in” are unfounded. Just watch from a distance and enjoy one of nature’s most unusual and beneficial wildlife species.