my herding mix briar facing a bright sun

my chi mix Watson and my herding mix Briar sniffing the corner of a fence, both their tails toward the camera

“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” – Bill Watterson

A few days ago, the dogs and i found a dead skunk.

It has been dead awhile; it’s just bones, fur, and the ghost of its greatest weapon. It’s difficult to imagine anything would have been desperate enough to eat the meat, but it has been picked clean by things bigger than ants, things that have sadly ruined its (very cool) skull.

jawbones of a skunk lying on pine needles 

If i’m honest with myself, it wouldn’t have mattered. I probably couldn’t have removed the reek from the skull anyway. The oils from a carcass soak into the bone if it’s left to decay naturally, and a skunk’s spray binds to proteins. I don’t know specifically if the skunk thiols bind to collagen, but it seems likely.

sketches of a dead skunk's jumbled bones, with some notes attempting to identify the anatomy

The next day, i went back to see the skunk and photograph/sketch its bones. I realized, as i skied down the sandy bank in my tennis shoes, my satchel full of art supplies bouncing against my hip, that i haven’t been on a walk by myself just because i wanted to in so long that the last one i remember is November of 2020: 

upward view of forest featuring mostly dark green with a peppering of yellow autumn leaves mossy rock in a coniferous forest but with a strange bed of deciduous leaves

I feel guilty going on a walk without my dogs, like i’m depriving them of an experience that i owe them. My dogs are not easy dogs; one of them has a psychological disorder often referred to as fear-based reactivity, and the other is the bravest trauma survivor, but he has severe canine PTSD. If i go on walks with them, i’m limited to places i think are safe. 

Places i think there won’t be off-leash dogs, where we won’t have to cross uneven ground with weird or dangerous textures, and where we won’t get warned off by security. Places i’ve already been or that i can imagine without having been there. When we found the skunk, it was the most fascinating non-weather-related thing to happen on a walk for a very long time, maybe years. 

sun behind clouds in a smoky sky

I need to take them places that challenge them; it’s what keeps them healthy and healing instead of slipping back toward fear. Even a “normal” dog can be suspicious or fear what it doesn’t know, so all of our dogs need to know, and know, and know.  And i also need to find those places and that knowledge, because i don’t think humans are so different. At least, i’m not.

my chi mix Watson looking over his shoulder in front of a rising sun my herding mix briar facing a bright sun

An entire year of my life–a year of potential confidence-building and knowledge that could have been gained–dedicated only to safe walks. It’s a little horrifying. In a best case scenario, it was still an entire 1% of my life. If i was a dog, it would be an incredible amount–years–so i’m grateful that with their keen noses, they don’t find our walks as predictable as i do. Still, it’s time to stave off that inevitable familiarity. 

Get ready, dogs. I’m going to find you more treasure. ★

the exposed bones and remaining tail hair of a skunk, lying on some pine needles