Until last week, many of us were suffering from an annual bout of cabin fever - that winter disease that makes us want to be out of the house but doesn't allow us to muster the energy, excitement or good weather to do it.

A friend of mine, whom I'll call Betty, dreams of the day when she can enjoy cabin fever without the fear of a malodorous melancholy setting in: the kind of melancholy caused by civets.A civet cat, according to Webster, is a flesh-eating animal native to south Africa and south Asia. Its musky secretions often are used in the manufacture of perfumes. The cat is a close cousin to the skunk; they look alike and share a familial odor.

And, according to Betty, they also are indigenous to the foothills of Utah County:

School was out for the Christmas holidays, snow was stacked high around Betty's house, with drifts more than 8 feet high. She and her daughter arrived home after last-minute errands Christmas Eve. As they entered the house a foul stench wafted through the air.

"It smelled like the sewer had backed up," Betty said. "The smell was so strong you couldn't tell what it was."

Family members began searching for the odorous origin.

"Mom, Mom," her daughter cried. "There's a skunk in the storage room. He's in the window well, and he just sprayed."

My friend had found her foul fiend, which escaped out the window and through the pine trees.

"We thought that was the last we would see of the "rat," Betty said. But for the next two months Betty's home was overrun with not one, but several civet cats.

Because of the cold, Betty kept her car engine heater plugged in at night. The heated engine provided a comfortable dwelling for the fragrant felines.

The civets scratched the insulation from under the car's hood and made a nest around the air filter and engine. Each morning Betty got up early to clean out the nests before she could leave for work.

"I would honk, yell and scream, trying to get rid of the beasts, but they wouldn't go. I didn't know what to do." she said. "At times they would see me coming out the back door, and I would have to race to the car to start my engine before they climbed in it. It became a game."

After she found an old turkey carcass and other garbage jammed in her car's heater, Betty knew she had to do something.

She called Animal Control. After some uncontrolled laughter the voice on the other end referred her to the state Division of Wildlife Resources, which in turn referred her to fish and game officers, who in turn referred her to several animal shelters.

"Everyone just laughed at me and said, `You have a real problem lady,' or they would ask if this was a prank call," she said.

"The animals literally wreaked havoc with my car. I finally had to call my insurance man after the animals sprayed their stuff through the heating system. He said, snickering, that he wasn't sure what the coverage was on skunk vandalism."

Betty's life was being controlled by civet cats.

"One night I went to a local dance. It was cold, so I turned on the car's heater thinking that after several cleanings the odor would be out of the car, it wasn't." Betty was so used to the scent that she couldn't smell what others around her could.

"I heard comments like, `What is that smell?' or `Someone overdid the perfume.' I realized they were talking about me. I did dance once, but the gentleman quickly excused himself, and I left."

One day Betty's daughter put her hand into the "cathouse," residence for their six cats. She expected to pet one of the cats, but stroked a civet instead.

She and her brother got the cats out, pulled the feline dwelling to the driveway, aimed a shotgun at the civet, and fired. The civet made a break for the hills, but the cat domicile sustained major damage and the bullet left a hole in the outside wall of Betty's house.

The civets are gone now. Winter is swiftly fading into spring, and Betty hopes that the coming season soon will bring a new breeze blowing.