The Smell of Prioritizing
Why emergencies are the tail that wags the dog
Every once in a while, I miss my Labrador retriever’s obvious evening cues informing me that his bladder is not large enough to hold the day’s fluid consumption until the following morning. On these occasions, I’ll wake up between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM to a very polite dog1 whining softly at the door and nosing the door handle. And that is how I came to let him out onto the front porch a little over a week ago. However, due to my grogginess and his urgency, I neglected to do one very important thing: walk out onto the porch before I let him out to make sure there weren’t any animals—squirrels, rabbits, cats, deer, bear—that he might be tempted to chase across our yard and across neighboring yards.
Henry and I stepped out onto the porch, he gave a small bark of pursuit begun and darted off into the darkness after something I couldn’t quite make out. Then I heard a strange scuffle followed by several noises from Henry that I can only describe as the cross between a bark, a cough, and a sneeze. About 0.7 seconds later the mystery of his strange behavior was solved as the pungent smell of skunk reached me, even before he did.
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By 4:30 AM I had researched how to get skunk off of a dog2 and was applying said remedy to Henry. By 8:30 AM I had finished washing him (eight times3) and disposed of anything involved in the process at the wood line at the corner of my yard.4
Tyranny of the Pungent
In the process of cleaning that smell off of the dog, I ignored my family as they got ready to head out for the day, canceled one meeting, and was slightly late to another. And here is the thing, you probably think that is entirely appropriate. The thought of skunk smell5 on a beloved pet has all the visceral response of an emergency. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t pleasant. It was a problem that needed to be solved. But my dog wasn’t injured. Nothing was on fire. Putting him on a lead in the backyard and getting to the issue later wouldn’t have changed much other than prolonging his nasal discomfort.
And that is the point. I made several mistakes and completely dropped a number of higher priority tasks because I chose to treat my smelly pet as the most pressing issue, as if it was a true emergency. And it wasn’t. In the moment, I felt like I was handling a very difficult task and executing in an emergency situation. But I wasn’t. I was shirking clear priorities by choosing a lesser priority and calling it an emergency.
As a leader, be careful of the tyranny of the pungent. Just because something smells like an emergency, doesn’t mean that it is. The ability to assess priorities, take a step back, and make the right decision is a much better quality to have than simply being able to move quickly to tactically handle whatever you decide to call an emergency at any given moment, no matter how bad it smells.
We potentially have the best dog in the world. He will do everything he can to avoid relieving himself inside while at the same time attempting to not wake up everyone in the house. This means he will not bark but will pace the house and whine softly in these situations.
The secret sauce is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap.
Yes, eight. The mistake I made was getting him wet before I used the magic solution. This diluted the solution and necessitated several alternating baths of magic solution and rinses with dish soap.
Skunk spray is an oil, much like the oil from poison ivy. It gets on everything and doesn’t come off very easily. I had to dispose of my clothes, a watch strap, a phone case, a hiking headlamp, a pair of L.L. Bean duck boots, etc.
I should say that skunk smell is far worse than what you smell from roadkill. It is that, but multiplied by an exponent of 100, and mixed with diesel fuel. You think I’m kidding. And I hope you never find out that I’m not.