Image: One very unhappy skunk. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar. “Beit Adar” means “The house of Adar.”

I woke this morning to the sound of three poodles barking. They were going absolutely bananas – something was wrong. I got my cane and went out back to investigate.

To my horror, the three of them were gathered around a skunk. I waded in and hollered “Leave it!” and when that didn’t work on one of them, used my cane to push her away. I locked the dogs in the house, much to their annoyance.

It seemed odd that the skunk had been sitting still for all the barking until I saw that she was stuck in a hole in the old wire fence. She had apparently used up her spray earlier, probably during the night, because I couldn’t get more than a slight whiff of the odor. She seemed exhausted.

(No, I do not know the gender of the skunk. I’m assuming, and perhaps projecting.)

I called Animal Control. The police department picked up, and they informed me that (1) Animal Control had been budget-cut out of existence and (2) I should call a pest control company. I called a couple of pest control companies, and they “don’t do skunks.” Slightly relieved (exterminators?!) I texted friends and family looking for suggestions.

My friend Jake texted me and said he was coming over. He threw a cloth over the skunk’s head and nipped the wires holding her. She backed out and headed down the hill. Now he’s out mending the fence for me.

So why put this on the blog? A couple of Jewish values came into play here.

  1. Chesed – kindness. Jake was kind to come over and help me. There was a time when I might have gone out there and cut the skunk free myself, but I am no longer able to do that sort of thing. He took time out of his day to help.
  2. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim is a negative commandment. We are commanded not to be unnecessarily cruel to animals. I did not let the dogs torment the skunk, even after I knew that she was unlikely to spray them. Jake was as gentle as he could be to the creature.  Leaving her caught in the fence would have been wrong. Killing her would also have been wrong, unless there was no way to free her.

Torah is not just about “spiritual” matters. In fact, within Torah there is no distinction between spiritual things and other things. Torah applies to all of life, even to a little skunk stuck in a fence.

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