MILL VALLEY, Calif. -
A Mill Valley household encountered a stinky surprise when a skunk became stuck in their dryer vent.
It was an unusual call, even for agencies that rescue animals all the time.
"The residents were smelling it," said Marin Humane animal services officer Sarah Leathers.
Leathers was dispatched to the woodsy neighborhood last week, uncertain what to expect.
"I haven't had a skunk stuck in a dryer before so I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into," she said.
Usually, she's called on to free wildlife from trash cans or crawl spaces.
"I clearly saw the skunk hanging out the side of the house," said Leathers.
He was a big 8-pound skunk, and he'd been struggling long enough to become exhausted and injured.
The homeowners said the skunk had been rambling under the house for a few days, before choosing the dryer vent as his exit route.
When Leathers saw him, he was stuck, facing outward.
"So I just pulled the whole thing, the skunk and the dryer vent, out of the wall," she explained.
Wrapping him in a towel, she got the distressed skunk into a carrier and away to the hospital.
He was wriggling and biting, but Leathers knew how to manage a stressed-out skunk.
"If you tuck the skunk's tail underneath them, they can't spray you because their glands aren't exposed," she noted.
The skunk arrived at Wldcare in San Rafael with his abdoment still wedged in the vent.
He was sedated, and the plastic device was slid over his head.
Then he was X-rayed for injuries.
"His rear leg was so swollen, we weren't sure if there was a fracture or not," said WIldcare Director of Animal Care Melanie Piazza.
No bones were broken, but the skunk suffered compression wounds on his mid-section, and some toenails were torn off during his struggle.
He's receiving daily doses of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications.
Staff at the animal hospital sometimes care for him in darkness, or cover his eyes, because he's nocturnal, and calmer that way.
"He was probably looking for food, or a den, a place to rest," said Piazza, "but he is so large, when he tried to get out, the flap on the vent closed and pinched him really tight."
Wildcare treats between 50 and 100 skunks a year, often hurt by rat traps placed outdoors.
Piazza says skunks are often misunderstood.
"They don't spray unless they're attacked, and they give plenty of warning, they stamp their feet, raise their tail, and run away."
Skunks also provide pest control, feeding on slugs and snails, mice and rats.
People may be more aware of skunks because mating season is underway, and their odor may crop up more often.
Because they like to burrow in dark, tight spaces under decks and houses, this is the time to make sure they don't settle- or get stuck- in strange places.
"We really recommend that everyone take the time to check their vents and crawl spaces and make sure no one's living under there and to seal them up before baby season starts," said Piazza.
The formerly stuck skunk will need a few weeks of recovery before being returned to nature.