I successfully avoid the inevitable hell storm of bird droppings from shampooing my head. I attribute this masterful feat to two decades of living with the New York City pigeons in New York. I have also successfully avoided becoming a victim to Master Splinter’s family members, who administer a repulsive agony to at least 100 New Yorkers every year with their sharp little teeth. These are the minuscule, everyday, under the radar nuisances you must live with in this city. They’re the fun stuff Jay Z and Alicia Keys failed to mention when they glamorized New York in their popular New York anthem, “Empire State of Mind”. No one ever said anything about the skunks.
We have skunks in New York?
I’ve heard the rumors. They’ve been circulating for a few years around Washington Heights, but I didn’t pay it any mind. I didn’t even flinch the night I crossed paths with a woman walking her dog on Cabrini Boulevard, visibly irritated, as she aggressively tugged at her furry friend in order to distance herself from what appeared to be a skunk hiding between two parked cars. It wasn’t until I had my own close encounter, surrounded by a group of skunks in Inwood Hill Park. I realized this was a serious problem.
In 2009, Jim Dwyer of the New York Times suggested that the skunks had begun migrating to Manhattan from the Bronx. “One possible route is the railroad bridge that crosses from the Bronx into Manhattan at Spuyten Duyvil,” said Dwyer. “By following the tracks, the skunks land directly in the greenbelts of Inwood and Fort Tryon, and then stroll into the adjoining streets.”
As the skunk population has grown and spread out to other boroughs, I’m positive that people may be smart enough to avoid a skunk at all costs, if not for the fear of being sprayed, then for the potential of contracting rabies. Still, man’s best friend may not be aware of the foul baptism these animals have to offer. After all, these are domesticated city dogs, who may have never encountered a skunk in their sheltered lives. And that lack of worldly experience has forced a few dog lovers to come home a little stinky.
Anne Burke, a resident of Queens, told the Daily News in 2011 that her dog, a husky named Jesse, had twice been a victim of a skunk’s spray attack in the span of seven months. “I do not want to go through this ever again,” Burke said. “I am absolutely scared to death.”
Unfortunately, the lack of a viable high-level predator like a coyote, combined with a lack of help from the city to step in to control this growing epidemic—the city’s motto remains: let the wildlife be wild, unless they begin to scratch, bite, or spread rabies—it appears that the skunks are here to stay.
There is one silver lining. We won’t see them much during the winter once they enter a state of torpor, not to be confused with hibernation. This means that they’ll be relatively inactive with a few cameos to scrounge up some food during the warmer days of the bitter cold season. Beware though, sometimes they will leave their den to empty out their scent glands and you don’t want to be a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.