My chocolate lab, Harmony, loves her big backyard.  It’s her territory. She knows every inch of the area….and she knows when it has been invaded during the night as she goes out in the morning and encounters new smells. Harmony defends it from invaders when necessary.  Generally, it’s not necessary as the closest anyone ever comes to her yard are the teenagers walking down the sidewalk visible off in the distance or the neighbor’s dog in their own backyard.

This was not the case last August.  There was an unknown visitor lurking in the bushes late one night when Harmony went out for her last bathroom break before we went to bed.  I was outside with her staring up at the night sky when Harmony and I both heard a rustle in the leaves in the back corner of the lot.  Simultaneously, Harmony took off barking as I yelled “no, stop!”

It was too late. Quickly, Harmony retreated to the house and I knew immediately from the smell what had happened. I called out to Mary inside to come help and the two of us proceeded to bathe our girl for over the next hour.

The internet says that you should use tomato juice to clean the skunk smell out of the fur.  We didn’t have any….but we did have a nice lavender-eucalyptus dog shampoo which did OK.  The odor was going to have to work itself to nothing eventually over time.

The next night, I again went out with her at bed time.  Too late I noticed a skunk along the far side fence as Harmony darted out after it….in the flash of a few seconds, Harmony was skunked again and had succeeded in chasing the little animal my way.  It stopped about 10 yards from me near the house with its tail raised —luckily away from me.

I called to Mary, gathered Harmony up and darted inside to safety.  To complicate matters, Harmony had not gone to the bathroom and the skunk had taken up position midway between our back and side doors.  Mary and I stomped and made noises to shoo away the creature.  It stood its ground, shifting its weight from one front paw to another.  It was not going away.

Eventually, I decided to take Harmony on leash out the front door and got her to do her business out in the front yard.  Another massive bath followed.  At some point, the skunk left.

Two nights later, a third spraying occurred.  We had to develop a strategy to take back our yard.

From that point forward, our nighttime ritual began with me doing my best secret service agent work….bright spotlight in hand, performing reconnaissance out back, shining the light in every crevice before Harmony was allowed to come out.  Even then, she was on a short leash.  Yes, there were several nights I spotted the black and white creatures meandering through the yard….my light serving to encourage them to leave.  And, there were a couple of times that even my pre-check did not detect a skunk that Harmony took out after only to be safely restrained by me a good distance from the critter.

For a period, ammonia drenched rags in the skunk’s common pathways seemed to deter them.  Later we installed motion sensor lights in the back yard which I believe has finally served to get rid of them.  Hopefully.

Winter came and the leaves dropped away. Skunk hiding places were reduced.  The lights turn on each night when we go out for our evening ritual.  The leash is no longer needed.  I hope that with the return of spring, there will not also be the return of the skunks.

Harmony still protects her yard.  Churchgoers parking in a distant lot still get her howling.  Her barking….and the skunks spraying…..they are innate reactions to their being threatened.  Animals naturally put up their defenses when they feel that they or their families or their territory are being threatened.

We have a part of that animal nature in us as well.  Humans are still impacted by their evolutionary past.  Yes, if we believe that our physical safety is threatened…or our families….or our territory…..we will react in much the same way as Harmony and the skunk.  We will use the resources at our disposal to ensure our safety.

However, our animalistic reactions can come from an even wider array of perceived threats. We have developed an internal sense of our personal self that is often called our “ego” and that ego can feel it is in danger even if there is no real physical danger present.  Something as seemingly minor as being cut off on the freeway when we are driving or someone disagreeing with our opinion can invoke our “fight or flight” response.

I felt such an emotional rise not too long ago simply because someone was holding a place in line at the grocery store for a large cart of food that they then moved in front of me.  My ego took offense because I “chose that checkout line based on the quantity of items of the shoppers in front of me” and they had someone broken “my rules”. My ego was insulted. If I were a dog, I would have barked at that couple.  If I were a skunk, I would have sprayed them.  My animal side called me to point out the inequity. My spiritual side called me to let it go.

Each day, we can encounter situations that invoke our innate tendencies to protect ourselves.  Luckily, most of these moments are not opportunities for physical bruises but rather bruises of the ego.  In our personal evolution, we need to develop our ability to respond from our spiritual nature and not automatically invoke our animal past.  Can we bring love to those moments?  Can we at least walk away without skunking others?  Can we “keep calm and carry on”?  That’s the true test of the spiritual evolutionary.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!