The can had been used to catch fat drippings from a grill, MacMillan guessed. The animal had cleaned out the food, but couldn’t get out. It probably had no idea it was in the middle of the road.
His first thought, he admits, was to keep driving — saving the skunk was too risky.
“I saw the skunk there, and I didn’t think I could help,” he told The Washington Post. “Then another car came along and almost hit it. I couldn’t leave that animal like that.”
The decision was made, MacMillan said, but he still had to figure out a plan.
He whipped out his cellphone — if things went south, he wanted to be able to show his wife why he came home smelling like skunk.
MacMillan is no animal expert. He owns and draws for SkeptiSketch, a project that illustrates atheist and agnostic arguments to promote their ideas to a wider audience.
So there would be no quick prayer, just a plea for mercy from the skunk as MacMillan crept closer.
“Skunk,” he says on the video. “Please don’t spray me. Please don’t spray me. I’m not going to hurt you. Come on over here. Come on over here, I’ll take that off your head.”
MacMillan said he doesn’t typically speak to woodland creatures, but he was trying to “gauge how it was going to handle me being there — if it started spraying right away or was assuming the position.”
About 75 seconds into the video, MacMillan summons the courage to latch onto the can.
“Come on, baby, you can do this,” he tells the animal, as man and skunk engage in a cooperative tug of war. “Good boy. Good boy.”
The skunk shakes its head and pulls back, its front legs lifting off the pavement from the effort. But after 20 seconds of tugging and metal crunching, it was free.
That, MacMillan said, was the moment of truth.
Rescuing animals doesn’t always end well, for the animals or their rescuers. There are plenty of YouTube videos of people getting sprayed by skunks. In May, a baby bison died at Yellowstone Park after tourists put it in their car, saying it looked cold. The newborn calf had to be euthanized, according to a report by The Post, because its mother had rejected it as a result of the “interference by people.”
On Monday morning, MacMillan said he had no misconceptions of skunk gratitude. He knew that the small animal would suddenly be face-to-face with a much larger, suit-wearing human.
They engaged in a three-second staredown, and MacMillan braced himself for the worst.
Then, the skunk scurried away.
“You can tell, it was deciding what do I do here,” said MacMillan, who ultimately uploaded the video to YouTube with the title “The Bravest Thing I’ve Ever Done.”
“I like to think there was a little bit of mercy in his life,” he said.
An earlier version of this post misspelled Mike MacMillan’s last name. This post has been updated.