Education Matters: Learning stripes


It's April vacation week for our local schools, and the learning in our house seems to have gone to the dogs.

It all started around 2 a.m. two mornings ago when our Rottie sat in the hallway, barking about every three minutes. I put her out, she sniffed for far too long, and we all went back to sleep.

The next night, she repeated this idea. Eventually, this time my husband got up with her. I heard a door open, to our son's bedroom, I thought, and the barking stopped. When the alarm went off at 5, my husband muttered "check on her." Turns out that his idea of how to stop the noise was not our son's room: he left her outside on the porch.

I opened the front door to the full-on smell of "Pepe Le Pew." The Rottie appeared, and I couldn't tell if it was the smell form the outside or from her. Determined to carry on with the normal day — and get out of the main smell zone — we set off on a walk. The dark of night had already passed, and the pre-dawn sky beckoned me to the top of the hill and the full sunrise.

The dogs had other ideas. The Yellow Lab joined her Rottie friend, the two of them stopping at the culvert. They crouched on each end: the long yellow tag swishing on the one side, and the little black stub frantically wagging on the other.

Once again, the smell of skunk prevailed. Disgusted, I called them off, and hoped it only came from inside the culvert (and not on the dogs themselves). Surely the black and white fellow (or fellows?) would move on. When we came back home, I urged the two dogs into the house, not allowing any exploration in the smelly zone. Much to the Rottie's horror, I forced her into the bath.

The day returned to normal. The kids got up, and the yellow Lab and the Rottie helped with chicken and rabbit chores. But this was too tempting for the dogs: they had to check out that same culvert.

Just like that, our little black and white striped friends shared their special perfume. I began to wonder if the Rottie had injured one overnight. What would we do if we had one of them in the culvert?

I called for an opinion from my husband. First, he spent quite a chunk of time laughing. He doesn't bathe the dogs, nor is he home during the day, so he finds humor in something I didn't find very amusing at all. He advocated for a "flushing out" method. "Get buckets of water and throw them all down the culvert. Stay on the uphill side, and you'll flush him out."

It sounded almost reasonable, so I garnered the troops. The youngest helped put the dogs into the garage — the yellow Lab now needed to be bathed, too. The older two filled buckets. We traipsed out, armed with our water. "On three," the middle child called out. We dumped together, and cautiously watched the other end. Water gushed forward. Leaves spilled out. Dirt ran through.

But no skunk.

"Seems impossible that if something is in there, it could hold on with all that water," commented the older son. Just then, we could hear a hissing, a kind of guttural sound.

"There's something in there all right!" they said in unison.

"And — there's the mist!" cried the younger son as he tore off back up hill towards the house.

"More water!" I declared, and we hiked back to the house to refill. Armed and ready, we returned to drench the poor creature yet again. "On three!" the second son commanded as he counted it out. This time, out popped a soaking wet skunk. But it only dazed him momentarily, because he shook himself off, blinked in the bright sun ... and returned to the culvert.

We resolved to try once more, but Pepe held his ground. He knows much more about these games then we do, I realized. We came up with a new game plan: Wait for dark, and hope he moves on.

Our school vacation week learning? Maybe the dogs know now to leave the black and white striped kitties alone. Personally, I also hope my husband learned something: leave the dogs in at night, no matter how much they bark!

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at


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