It happened again. Charlie, the 6-year-old beagle whose mission in life is to make me a crazy person, escaped the fence at dusk yesterday.

As previously reported in this column, Charlie has Houdini-level skills when it comes to devising new ways to escape the confines of our backyard fence. Dig under. Jump over. Squeeze through. He’ll do whatever it takes.

I used to take his determination to run away from home personally.

“Fine!” I’d think to myself. “If he hates it here so much, he can just go.” But then I’d worry about him and pray for him to come home safe. After a few hours, he’d show back up by the front door, doing a classic bad-dog-walk-of-shame. The look on his face seemed to say, “I’m sorry … but I’ll probably do it again.”

Now that I understand Beagle nature a little more, I’ve stopped taking his walkabouts so personally. Charlie is just wired this way, the same way I’m wired to worry about him when he goes.

A beagle’s nose is so sensitive and powerful that Charlie is practically compelled to follow it when he catches a scent. His nose has never sniffed a squirrel, rabbit, mole, cat, or armadillo that it didn’t want to track down and investigate.

Once he escapes the fence, there’s no stopping him. Our veterinarian thinks Charlie, who was a stray, is part Italian greyhound, which is why he’s thin and aerodynamic. An Olympic sprinter wouldn’t be able to catch this dog once his nose catches the scent of a squirrel. Speed and curiosity are a bad combination for a dog.

We’ve tried, but treats will not lure him. Charlie is much more interested in the taste of freedom than the taste of Milkbone. He never looks happier than when he’s streaking across the cul-de-sac toward the squirrel-filled woods beyond.

In the past year or so, Charlie’s runaway sessions have become shorter. Now that he’s middle-aged, he tires out sooner and comes home for an air-conditioned snooze on the sofa. But last night, he didn’t come home.

I finally stopped waiting for him around midnight and went to bed, hoping he’d show up and bark to be let inside. This morning I heard his tell-tale howling and spotted him lying in the front yard. I flung open the door and sprinted outside toward him, hoping to catch him before he could dash off again. He didn’t even try to move and let me scoop him up — a move I instantly regretted when I realized that Charlie’s nose had led him right to the backside of a skunk.

 “Oh, Charlie! What did you do?” I yelled, holding him away from me as we walked inside.

Even though Charlie loves to roll in something that smells rotten, even he seemed bothered by his current level of stank. I put him on the enclosed back porch and left him there while I drove the kids to school. (Let the record show that, once again, these types of misadventures only happen when my husband is out of town on business, so I was on my own to de-skunk the Beagle.)

I knew exactly who to text for help. One of my neighbors has a cat and dog who have suffered back-to-back skunkings lately, so she has become a de-skunking expert, a fact she’s not thrilled about. So I asked her for tips and she sent a recipe for a do-it-yourself de-skunking solution to use.

After a vigorous wash, rinse and repeat session, Charlie is officially de-skunked. His face is still a little smelly, which tells me that he must have taken a direct hit to his curious nose.

I’d like to think that his traumatic all-nighter has taught him a lesson. Maybe he won’t be so quick to dash out the door or tunnel under the fence next time. But I’m probably kidding myself. The nose wants what it wants — skunks and all.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at rockwoodfiles@cox.net. Her book is available on Amazon.

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