A visit from Pepé Le Pew

November 19, 2021

I've had an interesting love-hate history with skunks. In my younger Purple Painter Lady days, I gravitated toward eye-catching, exotic pets. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, I owned a chameleon, a cockatoo, a piranha, my beloved Afghan hound Mr. Diamond, and Leroy, a de-scented skunk from Burns Tropical Fish and Pet Shop.

I loved walking the elegant Mr. Diamond down the Boardwalk sporting my David Bowie science fiction magenta hair. I was one of the first people in the Cape Region ever to have hennaed hair, "the girl who fell to earth,” I suppose. I decided that a pet skunk would add to my allure.

I used to go to the Back Porch Café late in the evening and sit at the bar or on the deck under the stars with my pet skunk Leroy and order the flaming house coffee. This was a real production, with coffee, Galliano liqueur, cinnamon and whipped cream set ablaze. A dramatic happening even without the presence of a skunk!

Finally, Leroy proved to be too mettlesome, nipping at my feet in my apartment above the old Moore Building on Rehoboth Avenue (now the top floor of South Moon Under). I had to wear boots around him all the time, so I traded him in for Mr. Diamond, a more lovable but aloof companion.

Unfortunately, pets weren't allowed in the Moore Building, so I moved to the back of a smokehouse in Lewes on Pilottown Road. The staff at the Back Porch Café finally but gently told me that Leroy's departure was a good thing, since skunks were not supposed to be bar patrons.

So, life went on and I had no more run-ins with skunks until I inherited my childhood home in Milton. Some local cat hoarders’ helpers opened up the crawlspace under my house when I wasn't there, and skunks got into the space. A friend introduced me to "skunk candles,” which ameliorated the smell somewhat.

Fortunately, the local cat snipper group ("we snip them all, the long, the short, and the tall") has helped cut down on the feral cat population. The remaining cats sport a small telltale triangle snipped out of one of their ears to show that they have been neutered.

Cut to a few months ago on a warm August evening after dinner. I had been placing my cat Rustbelt's dinner out on the porch where we have carved out a small cat door. My husband Jeff was taking some dishes back to the kitchen when he ran back into the den, mouth wide open in terror. He had seen the flick of a black-and-white tail scurry through the kitchen from the porch and into my art room, formerly my mother's fancy Victorian parlour where her grand piano once held court. Now it’s a maze of tubes of paint and glitter. My mother would not have been frightened of the skunk, since she used to pick up snakes with a yardstick and unceremoniously toss them off of the porch.

Foolhardy but brave, I donned cowboy boots and went in to look for the critter. I saw his little face bobbing up and down under an antique washstand. We ran the vacuum cleaner, but couldn't find him. We finally called animal control and several skunk bounty hunters. One even answered from a phone in Texas! Far too far away, but they were the only ones who called back.

We just left the door open half the night, hoping he’d leave and we would never see him again, or so we thought. Remarkably, our visitor, nicknamed Pepé Le Pew after the old cartoon character, never sprayed. He must have left for Paris! A couple of nights later, I had wedged a styrofoam board in front of the cat door. Pepé returned and was aggressively pushing against my Birkenstock-sandaled foot as I frantically tried to bolster the cat door.

I called a former classmate who is well versed in all practical matters. He came over with a trap which we put out that night. The next morning, who should be in the trap but my big orange cat, Rustbelt, yowling away! The next evening's haul was better, for Pepé was finally caught.  My friend ferried him to a new, hopefully happier home in Redden Forest.

So ends – I hope – my latest skunk saga. I had seen a skunk crossing Federal Street in front of Short's Funeral Home that was later run over on Chestnut Street in front of my house. The moral of this story is that you don't leave pet food out on your porch or around your property.  One old lady across the street used to set out dishes of black-eyed peas in my yard on New Year's Day – a holiday treat for feral cats, I suppose. 

It's tempting to feed these needy animals or even your own pets outside, but you don't want a visit from Pepé Le Pew, do you?

  • Pam Bounds is a well-known artist living in Milton who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art. She will be sharing humorous and thoughtful observations about life in Sussex County and beyond.

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