I may be wildlife friendly, but I did NOT invite the skunks to live under our house.

I don’t have any pretty pictures to share, but the event I am reporting about is one of those stories that makes for great family lore.

Spring after spring, and sometimes in between–like Christmas Eve one year–and no, candles don’t help– skunk mammas found access under our house to give birth, and then stayed at least five or six weeks to raise their young.

How is that possible?

A little background.

I love to look at this picture of our house, probably taken in the early 30’s when it was very young–the house was built in 1923Most of the trees we now enjoy were planted long after this picture was taken, but just to the left of the house you can almost see a very young oak tree, one that is now the grand towering oak I’ve previously mentioned.

Old home

Our older home has lots of charm along with many architectural idiosyncracies that come with an owner-built home in an era that didn’t have the codes and standards required today.

When we purchased the house it was still considered a one bedroom home, although there were little side rooms and alcoves we utilized as small bedrooms before we added on to the house.

One of the little rooms was a “step-down” room, and from the very beginning we realized the foundation wasn’t substantial.

But how did the skunks know that?

We would awaken in the night to the sickening sensation of the house completely enveloped in the bitter, uniquely almost indescribable odor that heralded their arrival.

If you haven’t experienced a skunk in this way you may be surprised to know that the strength of the odor is so pungent it invades your pores. There was an accompanying bitter taste and our clothing and skin were permeated with the offensive odor.

One of my most embarrassing moments was sitting in church while listening to people as they tried to identify “what IS that smell?”

Some late evenings we would sit outdoors and watch them scurry and dive under the house. Didn’t we do anything about this, you may rightly ask?

Yes! We tried. We reinforced any open areas we could find, used chemical deterrents, and asked professional advice. The difficulty was that as nocturnal animals they did their digging and exploration after dark and we would be left the next day trying to determine their new point of entry.

And then, of course, we didn’t want to somehow entomb them! As we blocked entryways, were we also blocking exits? What if the babies were under there and Mama and Papa were out on a date! What a conundrum.

I think Jay, the hunter, kind of enjoyed certain aspects of this wildlife adventure.  He foolishly fearlessly put his hand and nose into nooks and crannies that left him vulnerable to attack, but the most amusing episodes came when  watching him faithfully set his now famous “skunk trap” every night. He was just sure he was going to capture a skunk!

The trap was completely self-contained with no visible openings, so once “tripped” he never knew for sure what was caught until the moment of big release. The “captured critter” was transported to an area near the Los Angeles River to maximize the animal’s survival possibilities (it was also self-serving…we didn’t want it to come back!), but poor Jay was always disappointed.

Dozens of unfortunate Opossums were transported in the wildlife relocation plan–and not one skunk!

Finally, enough was enough.

The burrowing under the little step-down room with its inferior sub-flooring was creating a new problem. The dirt was piling up and the flooring was damp and rotting.

A contractor friend agreed to help us rip up the floor and we would not only make the permanent remedies to the flooring inadequacies, but also, we’d figure out some way to thwart the efforts of our little black and white visitors.

While I was busy doing my own Saturday chores, our friend Mark called me to come see what he’d discovered. I didn’t want to know what he’d found. Was there a live nest? What about animal remains? I could hear in his voice that he was quite amused at something, but nothing about this situation was amusing to me.

“Uh, well, look,” he said. I did. What was he seeing that I wasn’t seeing? After a minute or two my eyes shifted from the mess on the floor to the outside light streaming through the “foundation” of the outer wall.

“You don’t have any foundation on this part of the house,” he informed us. “Those are dummy blocks, and the whole room is shifting.”

Good grief! Mark went on to tell us how fortunate we’d been that we had never had an electrical fire or lost the entire end of the house in one of our many earthquakes.

So what to do?

We needed a new plan and had to delay beginning the now much more extensive project by at least one week while we created new strategies and gathered supplies.

I had a crew ready to do demolition and we didn’t have a project. Now was my chance. I’d been wanting to remodel one of our bathrooms–another crumbling relic from the 1920s.

“Hey guys. Want to gut a bathroom?”

And that’s how the skunks brought attention to a potentially dangerous situation in our home, and also how I ended up with a whole new bathroom.

I repay the favor with water from our pond, but they are not welcome under the house. We have a binding agreement and I’m holding them to it.

Just For Fun: Want to see some really tiny, newborn skunks? They’re cute at this stage, particularly if they are under someone else’s foundation. Workers at a Mill Valley storage facility found week-old skunk babies last month. Kudos to them for arranging foster care! See the little ones HERE. 

44 thoughts on “I may be wildlife friendly, but I did NOT invite the skunks to live under our house.

  1. Love that lathe, Debra.

    And please forgive me for laughing at the story of you sitting in church, smelling like a skunk. Did you do like my father and hold your nose and wonder who it was, too? Because that’s what he does when he, well, you know.

    I’m glad you and Jay got rid of them.

    1. I don’t mind you laughing at all, Andra. I still laugh when I think about it. That whole period of time was so crazy. We would think we had the problem all contained and another spring would come and they’d be back! The incident in church was really so uncomfortable. I don’t remember what we did, but I think we just tried to look oblivious. We were to the point, I think, when we no longer even smelled it in our clothing. I got a really beautiful bathroom out of it! 🙂 And no more skunks!

  2. Oh my goodness those babies are cute! And even cuter that they are not under your house. I can just imagine the frustration you were having with this. Jay reminds me of how my dad would have handled things – and I suspect he would have been secretly completely having fun with it. Like you said, it becomes the stuff of family lore. I love these kind of stories! And it’s pretty cool that these little critters actually led you to a foundation (or lack there of) flaw with your home. In a way, they saved the day. 🙂 Still, I would hold them to that agreement as well.

    1. This was a few years ago now, Kristy, but we still talk about the skunk-trap! Jay was so sure he was going to find a way to entice those skunks right on in! It was hilarious to me. The foundation was absent in just that one little room, and we really could have had a serious problem if it had continued to go unnoticed. We had many other parts of the house remodeled and no one ever detected the problem before, so I suppose the skunks really were helpful! 🙂 Don’t you just love those little newborn skunks, though? It’s amazing they were found in time and not harmed.

  3. Skunk spray is nooooo joke! When it’s settle it smells like burnt tires, which is bad enough, but when it’s fresh it’s like someone throwing onion juice in your face while you’re trying to breath through the tire smoke! My eyes are stinging just thinking about it.

    Did you ever put a foundation on your house? My parent’s house was built in 1890, and until about five years ago sat on cement-filled coffee cans! They’ve owned it for over 30 years and they’re still finding interesting tidbits. I love old houses, especially in this area.

    1. Cement-filled coffee cans! That’s amazing! It’s hard to believe that some of these old houses have even survived! Yes, we got everything taken care of The foundation was really only missing from this one little room. We had a major remodeling of the house more than thirty years ago. But there were still the odd pockets! Skunks are odd creatures, aren’t they? I haven’t yet determined what their purpose must be. 🙂

  4. OMG, I can’t imagine trying to sleep in a house filled with eau de skunque! That stuff is nasty. Glad you took care of the dangerous situation and got a new bathroom.

    1. That was a strange year, but one problem led to several nice changes. Funny how things can sometimes take a decent veer even when dealing with a very unpleasant situation! It all ended up very well in the end! 🙂

  5. It’s good to know something good has come out of these home invaders. We don’t have skunks here in Oz so I have no idea what that smell is like but I can appreciate it is vile. Hope you’re enjoying your new bathroom xx

  6. Kay T

    We have had a skunk under our house this year. She/he/they have not emitted their “odour” particularly, but occasionally I catch a whiff. I wish I could get a new room out of the deal.

    1. I wonder why your skunks are better behaved than ours were, Kay? But I’m very glad to know you haven’t had the full spray experience! We put up with the problem for a several consecutive springs before we finally conceded we weren’t going to win! The remodeling was a very nice byproduct, I do admit. 🙂

  7. Did you know that the comic character Pepe Le Pew’s girlfriend was Penelope? Friends enjoyed calling us Tom and Penelope le Pew, because, of course, I’m Penelope and I stunk. Skunks burrowed under a screened porch that was made into an addition. One night, something else got under there. Oh my, we could hear a commotion under the floorboards, then . . . oh that smell! It is far, far worse that what comes wafting through the car windows, and hard to describe, isn’t it Debra? It came in through our heating ducts. Took weeks to get rid of the smell, and we too were the bearers of a certain odor that caused folks to pull away. Our area of town was dubbed “skunk alley”.

    We used to watch the mother and babies go out for stroll each night. The babies are so cute.

    Well, Debra, at least you got a remodeling done.

    1. Skunk Alley! Oh you DO know the feeling and the smell, Penny! I didn’t know Pepe’s girlfriend was Penelope. That’s so funny, but as much as we laugh about our own “encounters,” at the time it was so frustrating. We really did try a variety of routes to take back control, but since that one corner of the house was vulnerable, and we didn’t know it, no amount of blocking the skunks was going to be effective. It is the most horrible stench I can imagine. I think I could more easily adjust to smoke damage! The best part was that we had updated our old bathroom many times, but once we got really into the problem with the little “closet room” we knocked out walls and did work we probably never would have done if I hadn’t been so exasperated. It turned out well.

  8. Sounds to me the skunks did you a huge favour… fixed the problem before it happened and a new bathroom out of it… wonderful.. I do have a picture in my mind of the people in Church shifting quietly further away from you .. LOL…

    1. Those silly skunks did save us, I think, BD. The area in question was basically being used as a closet, so I don’t think we’d have discovered the foundation problem without the other issues. We have remodeled our home multiple times in almost 40 years, but that one area had been mostly untouched. It all worked out. The church/odor problem was very strange. We got to the point where we didn’t smell it on ourselves. It still makes us laugh when we think back to the many times we were “skunked” before we figured it all out! 🙂

  9. Much to be amazed here. As you said, house construction during those days was a bit different in those days. …. and then from Whew to Phew! …. all leading to a new bathroom. What a strange set of dominoes.

    1. It was a very odd series of events at that time, Frank. Our home underwent major remodeling thirty-five years ago and we didn’t realize any part of the older portion of the house was still vulnerable. It’s a wonderful old home with a lot of interesting features, but parts of it are still almost 100 years old. Every now and then we come up against a puzzle from the past! 🙂

  10. What is the moral of this story, then? Never turn your back to a potential friendship, even with a skunk or a family of skunks? Seems like those foul smelling creatures helped fix a serious problem with your house. Or at least got you started repairing it. But I guess not even a helping hand from friends makes them welcome to take over the house…

    1. You’re right, Otto. It’s all in the perspective, and I think it’s an excellent idea to let this lesson teach me something about all potential relationships, be they beast or human. We never would have found the problem with the foundation in that area had we not had the issue with the dirt mounding underneath. The only thing I used the room for was closet space. It all remains a very funny family story!

    1. Yes, but I didn’t get a new kitchen out it…that’s next. LOL! We’ve lived in our home so long all the past remodeling jobs are now old. There are good reasons why people move, but we seem to stay and put ourselves through the headaches of major home improvement jobs. I should probably be more grateful that we can, but I do get weary. 🙂

  11. Skunks always look so attractive and endearing to this non-American, Debra, but of course I’ve only heard of the stink they make, never experienced it for myself. No, you don’t want them under your house, but it was a very happy chance that they went under there to warn you that a part of your house could fall down unless you did something about it. 🙂

  12. Ugh, no fun at all…but there was a silver lining, even if it came with some extra scent. We haven’t had any skunks under the house, but we did get a Mom and Baby in the back yard one afternoon. We stayed inside that day…

  13. We’ve had skunks in the neighborhood for years now, Debra. Every Winter they have another litter(?) and by mid-Summer my backyard reeks to high heaven. If you go to bed with a window open the stench will wake you. I have to make noise at night before letting Max into the yard lest he get sprayed again. One night we both almost got it. Even so, I’d say yours are lucky skunks. Because of them, you discovered some much needed repairs I shudder to think what may have happened had things remained as they were. And you’ve a new bathroom! Bless their smelly little hearts! 🙂

  14. I have never met a skunk and will like to keep it this way! I am glad however that good came out of your skunk residents. I believe this was divine intervention as smelly as it was. 😀

  15. We have a skunk that lives in a pipe that runs under the driveway. One year when I was taking the dog out to do his thing before we went to bed, and mind you he was on the retractable leash, I opened the door and the dog shot out. Not thinking I grabbed the extending line of the leash to stop the dog, but that did not work. We both got hit by the spray. The smell kind of reminds me of burning coffee beans and having worked near a processing plant, the smell is pretty similar. It took weeks to get rid of the odor even after using the best products to eliminate the odor. I was not in church but at the post office and everyone was looking around to see who the offender was and not wishing to draw any attention to myself, I looked around too! 🙂

    The babies are very cute and thank you for the link! Also, thank you for signing up to follow my blog! I hope that you will enjoy my posts! – B

  16. Dear Debra, so the house you bought brought you its own unique perfume to wear! What a story, one with a happy ending for you and your husband. I can just see how confused the skunks are going to be when they come to your foundation and find no entrance. There’s a children’s book here I think! Peace.

  17. Fortunately we don’t have skunks… Mice yes, but no Skunks. I regularly trap the Mice over winter and take them down to an open area by the North Circular to release them. I’m sure the same ones are back again a few days later but at least we’ve both had some exercise 😉

    Glad you found the building problem and got it resolved 🙂

    1. I’m really impressed, Martin. I mean it! You trap and release mice? That so aligns with my thinking, but I’m not sure my actions are that congruent when it comes to rodents. On the other hand, I’m horribly “freaked out” by mice, so usually they get the territory and I go running! 🙂

      1. LoL – We enjoy showing the Cubs how to catch and release mice and they enjoy getting that close to wildlife. Mice are a harmless part of our wildlife. Rats and Squirrels are different. Squirrels are ok as long as they don’t get into your house – if they do, you call the council exterminator: Hopefully before they chew through your electic cables 😉 Rats are vermin carrying serious diseases and rate an instant exterminator call!

  18. AirportsMadeSimple

    Loved your post! We have those tiny ants (doesn’t everyone?), and they were invading us again recently…but Skunks??!!! I would have freaked out! Our house is “older” too – 1938, so I know all about those old houses…but I love it and love the history. Glad to hear you were able to get a positive out of it!

    As a side note, once, when I lived on a ranch as a kid, we had a bullsnake problem. They were getting under the old 1920s ranch house during the heat of the summer day to cool off. One day, we were sitting on the porch, and saw one slither towards the foundation (we couldn’t tell where they were getting in), and my dad chased one, literally, across the yard and towards the foundation as it wiggled its way into a small hole in our foundation. Half of the snake was in the hole, half of it was in my dad’s hands, and boy he was strong and pulling, but no match for that snake! The snake just slowly kept pulling it’s way under the house. Not sure how the rest of the story went, but at that point, the snake won.

    1. Oh dear! Skunks were pretty bad…but snakes? I think that would freak me out BIG TIME! I wasn’t worried the skunks might actually get in the house, but a snake could. We are no match for wildlife! We can only do so much, right? Yes, these older homes have charm–and tons of challenges, don’t they? ox

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