As some of you already know, I’m married to a veterinarian with a PhD in parasitology. This results in him doing some strange things, such as picking up road-kill – to check for parasites you understand. However understanding I am, and despite the fact he has his own freezer space in the garage for “dead things”, there are some animals he is not allowed to bring home. Topping this list are skunks. Not that they aren’t wonderful creatures when alive and breathing, but hit one with a car, and even when wrapped in multiple plastic bags, and stored in a well-sealed chest freezer, these beasts will still stink you out of house and home. We learned that the hard way.
That being the case, when Dr. Wonderful wanted to do a survey to determine how many road-killed skunks were infected with Sarcocystis neurona (a single-celled parasite that causes EPM – equine protozoal myelitis), he had to find a way to sample them without bringing their little carcasses home. Skunk tongues were the answer.
Not only are skunk tongues located as far away from the offensive end of a dead skunk as you can get, but they are a conveniently-sized organ that will fit nicely into a screw-top test-tube! Dr. Wonderful had his own in-car tongue collection kit consisting of gloves, scalpels, scissors, and lots of test-tubes – because you just never know when or where you’ll find a road-killed skunk.
The daughter and I were proficient at spotting the skunks and relaying their whereabouts to Wonderful. We were also very used to sitting at the side of the road while Wonderful dissected out many, many skunk tongues. Initially, we were embarrassed by the strange looks we got from concerned passers-by, but we eventually learned to ignore then. Ah, the things we do for love!
One fine Saturday in April, the entire family drove up to Grand Island – the “big” city about 30 miles to the north. We were heading to the animal shelter there to check-out a rabbit for the daughter. We came equipped with an animal carrier because we were pretty sure “Spot” would be coming home with us if she had a good personality. As luck would have it (at least from my view-point), no dead skunks were present on our drive to the shelter.
At the same time Spot was being listed on Petfinder, so was a dog named Bud. Not just any dog, but a low-to-the-ground Labrador/Basset cross – or so he was listed. For years I had owned an SBD – small black dog – first Maggot (who died of old age), then Agnes (who had to be euthanized due to a spinal injury), but I was currently black dog-less. After checking out Spot(the saint among rabbits) we decided to visit the other animals in the shelter prior to heading for home. There he was in an outdoor run – Bud. He looked so much happier in person than in the bad photo on Petfinder. But – I – did – not – need – another - dog!!!
We signed the papers, paid the adoption fee, and were ready to head home with our new rabbit. That’s when the man pulled into the parking lot with the large, black, plastic garbage bag with something in it. The man headed towards the animal control officer who met him in the parking lot. Dr. Wonderful became very interested, especially when he overheard that THERE WAS A SKUNK IN THE BAG!!!! You could see the manic look in his eyes. You could sense the temptation. You could see every muscle in his body tensing up. He finally blurted out, “I can’t take it! I’ve got to go ask for the tongue!” - then he bolted from the car.
The daughter looked at me, I looked back at her, I looked at the rabbit in the carrier and I sighed. “You stay here,” I told her. “I’m going to go get a dog.”
Thus I found Bud being walked in the outside pen by a volunteer that knew a rube when she saw one. She knew to tell me Bud’s time was nearly up. No doubt she also knew that any real pressure wasn’t necessary – this dog had me from the get-go.
I went in, signed the paperwork, paid the adoption fee, and went back to the car with one long, low, black dog.
Long and Low to the Ground
Shortly there after, Wonderful came back to the car with a crestfallen look on his face.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Well, I ran over and asked if I could have the tongue, and the animal control officer just gave me a really strange look and told me no!”
“Did you tell him you were a veterinary parasitologist, and why you were interested in the tongue?”
“No, I just asked for the tongue, and since it was a rabies suspect he said I couldn’t have it.”
Frankly, I was amazed that the officer didn’t simply lock up my lunatic husband. One can only imagine what was going through the poor guys mind.
Bud and Smiley
Bud the “Bassedor” (which we call him in front of folks who think “designer dogs” are something special and not just mutts) was meant to be our dog, even if our ownership of him was due to some poor diseased skunk’s demise. Other than being able to spring over 4 foot fences, Bud is a model citizen. He came already neutered, was house-trained, would sit, stay, come, hang out close-by, and help me every day in the barn. He’s also a perfect sleeping companion when Wonderful is gone – doesn’t snore, doesn’t hog the bed, doesn’t steal the blankets.
Wonderful continued to collect many additional skunk tongues. One particular animal was loaded with ticks – quite the added bonus! Unfortunately, Wonderful sliced his finger with the scalpel when removing the tongue from this one. About that time, he remembered that rabid animals often have numerous external parasites because they stop grooming. Fortunately, he removed the head and sent it to the rabies lab and took a trip to our medical doctor’s office for a booster rabies vaccination.
The skunk was positive for rabies – a prime example of why you shouldn’t play with dead things.