Let the record show that about once a year, I have some kind of animal adventure in my backyard that turns into an article. It’s not even like I live on a farm. Most of the animals in my area are of the variety that one would generally find lying squished on the road, though sometimes I find them dead but not squished.
“What’s that about? He clearly wasn’t run over, so why did he die in middle of the road? Did he crawl out here to flag down Hatzalah?”
But most of my animal adventures involve the ones in the cage trap in my backyard. My wife has a garden where she grows beautiful vegetables that are then eaten by local animals. This is not ideal. She wants us to have some too. Or at least for these animals to pitch in on the weeding. Ideally not when she’s around.
So she keeps opening this trap, which she borrowed from her boss, and while it’s nice and humane, we did not get it with instructions. We know how to catch the animals, but what are we supposed to do with them? There has to be a step 2. It’s not like a fly strip, where it’s going to keep filling up with animals.
Animal Control is no help. We tried calling them the first time we caught something, and they told us that they don’t actually control live animals. Just dead ones. They’re scared of live animals – same as you. If you’re stupid enough to actually catch an animal you don’t want, it’s your problem to get rid of it. But they will tell you that it has to be within a mile of your house.
I figured I could either release it on Shabbos and possibly get sprayed, or I could release it on Tisha B’Av
and possibly get sprayed
Anyway, one Shabbos morning, during the seudah, my son says, “Hey! There’s something in our trap!”
So at first I’m like, “Let’s deal with it after Shabbos.” We’ve done that before.
Then he goes, “It’s a skunk.”
My first thought was that I actually wrote in a previous article that the day there’s a skunk in that trap, I’m moving. So I might have to do hataras nedarim. I have no idea how to get a skunk into a car and drive it to the park without getting sprayed, and I’m not going to walk down the street with it. I’d have to tie it to the roof rack or something. And probably get a ticket. Or lose it going around a corner.
I don’t even know how to approach this cage in the first place. And when am I gonna do this? It’s the middle of the summer, and it’s 100 degrees in the sun. The skunk is probably dehydrating. Should I really wait until the night?
Add in the fact that, on this particular week, Motzoei Shabbos was Tisha B’Av. And waiting until Monday wasn’t really an option if I wanted the skunk to move out of the cage on its own power.
So I figured I could either release it on Shabbos and possibly get sprayed, or I could release it on Tisha B’Av and possibly get sprayed. And while getting sprayed by a skunk is probably in the spirit of Tisha B’Av, I figured that on Shabbos I can bathe, at least in cold water. Whereas if I did it on Tisha B’Av, I don’t I don’t know how many times I could wash to my knuckles until the smell is gone.
Sure, I could probably get a heter from a rav to bathe on Tisha B’Av, especially if I asked in person. But time was of the essence, and I wasn’t going to run around town in the heat to wake a rav up from his nap and ask him what to do about a skunk. Though I did ask a rav after Tisha B’Av, in case it ever happens again, and he told me that while I didn’t break halachah, he probably would’ve let it die. Even during the week.
Yeah, a lot of people said that.
But I did look up Hilchos Shabbos, and it turns out I could release it. The sefer didn’t say how either.
Then I thought, “What if I let my 12-year-old do it?”
So first my son (Daniel) changes out of his suit into the worst clothes he has. Actually, the first thing he does is run across the street and get his friend Yudi, who, while Daniel is inside getting dressed, marches straight into the backyard in his older brother’s slippers with 3 siblings and his mother. And Daniel, who’s upstairs with the windows closed, turns to me and says, “I think the skunk just sprayed.”
We didn’t really have a plan. The plan, as far as we could figure, was for my son and apparently Yudi to approach the cage very carefully, and if the skunk lifted its tail, to run. Except for Yudi, in his brother’s slippers.
So they started making their way to the cage, very slowly, and they got most of the way there before it occurred to Daniel that he didn’t know how to open the cage. So he ran back to me, and Yudi freaked out.
But then Daniel headed back out, and the backyard was really starting to stink, and Daniel decided to climb the swing set to sneak up on it from above, and I was shouting at him from the porch over the noise of the air conditioner, and Yudi’s brother was shouting, “Don’t go near the cage in my slippers!” and it turns out that shouting isn’t great for keeping a skunk calm.
Then I got the idea that maybe we should cover the cage so that if the skunk sprayed, it wouldn’t hit anyone directly. I handed Daniel a towel that had been on our back porch for a while. But instead of just walking toward the cage with the towel shielding most of his body, he had Yudi grab the other end. So now they’re holding the towel sideways, walking toward the cage with their faces turned, like Noach’s sons, the towel was perpendicular to the cage, and neither of them was behind it. So we all yelled some more, which did wonders for the smell.
Then my son had this idea to climb on top of the swing set and drop the towel onto the cage. It did not land squarely. Yudi ran over and rearranged the towel “properly”, but he thought “properly” meant “like a tablecloth” – evenly centered with the bottom half of the cage uncovered on all four sides.
The other issue was that the cage was facing a wall. So once we opened the cage, the skunk would have to come out and make a U-turn toward everyone.
So we had to turn the cage around. I said, “Okay, push the cage through the towel.”
And Daniel’s like, “Let me get a broomstick.”
There’s no way this cage is not going to flip over.
So I decided to do it myself. I approached the cage from behind, and I propped it open.
Now this is pretty normal. I’ve had groundhogs that didn’t dart out either, and most opossums have no clue what they’re supposed to do when the cage opens. They just ignore it and continue fighting with the closed end.
Usually the way I get them out is I tilt the cage or kick the closed end. But I didn’t want to startle the skunk. Again.
So I’m like, “Maybe it’s dehydrated. Or it’s comfortable in there now that we’ve made it some shade.” But I can’t put a bowl of water in front of the cage, because it’s Shabbos, and also if you feed things they tend to come back.
But I had the bright idea that maybe I could pour some water on it, which would either revive it or get it to run out of the path of the water without spraying the guy who had to lift the towel off the top of the cage to make this happen. We couldn’t just splash water on it from a distance, as there was a garden right next to it.
So I told my son go inside and get a cup of water. He comes out five minutes later, hands me a cup and says, “I finished the bottle.”
“What bottle? Wait. We’re giving it filtered water? That we need for the fast?”
So I take the ice-cold filtered water and pour it directly on the skunk, and it doesn’t move. But it’s definitely still breathing.
So finally I say, “That looks like a good idea. I’m going for a nap.”
Anyway, when I checked the skunk later, it was dead.
So I had to go out in middle of the night on Tisha B’Av to dump it out of the cage onto the middle of the road. Right before going back inside to sit shiva for it.
But on the other hand, right now I have a dead skunk out on the street in front of my house that clearly wasn’t run over by a car. Well, until Yudi’s other brother ran over it doing a K-turn in our driveway in a 15-passenger van. But it occurred to me: This is how they get in middle of the road! People are putting them there!
That’s disgusting. But at least they’re not judging me. And maybe now Animal Control will take it away.
The street sweeper certainly hasn’t. We just watched him go around it.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist for The Jewish Press, and has written three books, all published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com