I dyed my dog the other day, entirely by accident and without knowing that my retriever-looking mutt with one blue eye would add to his unique look by having a mottled chocolate and black hide. It started the night before, when the dogs wanted to go outside before bedtime. I opened the door and they burst through it–scattering at least two baby skunks who had seen fit to sniff around my doormat, most likely in search of the zucchini muffins I had been making all day long.
Nothing can make a dog return to you once it has found a skunk. Nothing but becoming bored or getting sprayed in the eyes. So I did what any loving pet-parent would do.
I slammed the door and cursed at the dogs through a closed window until the quartet had finished with their dance and my two dogs wanted back inside. At this point, Teddy had bolted off to the garden shed, so that wasn’t a terrible place, but Terra had chased the other skunk into the hedge beneath the living room windows. And my house smelled, inside and out, of skunk. If you haven’t smelled it before, it’s like rotting fish mixed with bad egg with a heaping dash of eau de steer compost. But worse.
I cracked open the door. Terra had learned how to be quick about skunks; she stank, but she hadn’t gotten hit in the face, so she was hyper and buzzing with the thrill of the chase. This was Teddy’s first time getting sprayed, and he was a little traumatized by the stinging potency of it. He expected me to comfort him the way I had cuddled him for five minutes after he first got zapped by the electric fence around my garden.
I yelled at them both to get in their dog run. My reaction surprised them, but they went along with joy since every other time I sent them there, it meant they got treats. Tonight they just got locked in and left.
I woke early the next morning, researched up the Humane Society’s skunk shampoo (a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap), and gave them both the bath according to directions. Pretty much, that included spraying them down until evenly wet but not soaking, then working the shampoo into their fur and leaving them to drip-dry. After decades and tens of farm dogs, my family has practice with de-skunking a dog.
So once both dogs had been washed, they went back in the dog run, I went to work for the morning, and when I came back right after lunch, Teddy had become an auburn. He was completely oblivious to this, racing around completely skunk-free, a bright red-brown in the sun, and his usual black in the shade.
Being a formerly chronic hair-dyer, I realized very quickly that peroxide + sunlight (even in the shade) = bleached hair. But this did nothing to lessen both my surprise and my instant, gripping feeling of guilt. Bleached hair didn’t fade. The pigment was lifted from the hair shaft, making it impossible to go darker again without putting pigments back on the hair shaft. Which meant if I wanted him to be black, I’d have to go find a non-peroxide black dye meant for humans and hope that it worked on him. Not going to happen. The good news is that peroxide doesn’t damage the actual production of hair, so I would only have to wait several months for his hair to grow in. But being a long-haired dog, this means he would boast the ombre look which is so “in style” at the moment.
Terra (who is a blue heeler) did not have any changes in her hair color, not even the black spot on her rump. She looked exactly the same as before. Maybe a little bit less dusty, but that was it. The farm dogs had managed to all be yellow labs or golden retrievers, so any bleaching of their hair was not noticeable, if it happened at all.
So, while I was in shock and watching the two dogs romp and play, Teddy’s brown coat shining in the sun, I decided I’d make the most of it and share my discovery with my friends and family. And hope my husband would be OK with me dying his dog the same color as his beard.
* * * *
Unfortunately, this is a true story. And it came about, of all things, because I was thinking and working on the beginning–the real beginning–to my work in progress, The King’s Mutt. When do you know where to begin? How do you start? It can easily get so befuddled while writing a novel. How far back is too far? Is the middle really OK?
Feral Magic taught me how to tell a story. Maybe it isn’t the best, but it’s a decent enough start. The King’s Mutt has taught me about beginnings. And how sometimes your beginning ends up as your middle, and that’s fine. Bear in mind that a story will have a beginning with consequences that aren’t always forseen until the very end of the tale.