Tuesday, July 04, 2006
An AWESOME POSSUM
An Awesome Possum viewing her pictures on the internet and taking time to smell the posies.
I hadn’t planned on doing a “possum” thing just yet… but I have had 3 emails re possums since we got back from Pennsylvania, so I guess the time is right.
First a bit of my personal possum history - I volunteered for a few years at a wildlife rehab center an hour’s drive from my home. Can you imagine anyone nuts enough to drive a 2 hour round trip and give up one day of their week-end to go clean cages, feed babies, wash floors, etc FOR NO PAY? All I can say in my defense is ga$ was a lot cheaper then… Anyway, this is what I did for a while and took classes in animal care getting an associates degree in something or another like that… But the point is, I hope I did some good and I know I learned a lot. Mostly what I learned, however, is that I know just about nothing about anything. But, I have learned how to find out things and to find help when I need it.
My first love was squirrels. Bunnies were the cutest, but awfully hard to care for and had a high mortality rate compared to the other critters. And jumpy little critters! I remember avoiding the baby possums as much as I could. I carried baby squirrels around in my shirt pocket all day, talking to them about everything, petting them whenever they stirred. Baby rabbits would have jumped out of my pocket in a heartbeat, but the squirrels curled up and slept, content to be with “mommy” until they needed to eat. But, more about squirrels in another post. I vaguely remember feeding the baby possums. Mostly I remember they slept in a big sock. I thought that was cute. Since they slept all day, they made little demand for my time. So what did I know about possums? Was I prepared for the box Anna brought home one afternoon? HA!
I think it was April, more or less. I had just buried one of my dearest friends, my former guardian, and was struggling to learn how to use this confounded piece of equipment sitting here on this desk. Yeah, it was a while ago. Anyway, Anna came home from work one day carrying a big box – really big compared to the tiny creature in it. Inside was a totally terrified, truly tiny possum. She weighed less than 150 grams. I do remember my exact words as I lifted the little creature out of the box and cuddled it to my chest. “Do you have any idea how you have just changed my life?” Yep, that is what I said. Did I know how right those words were? I wrapped the little thing up in a towel and headed for the telephone. I called my dear friend “B,” the owner of the wildlife center. “B” talked me thru the first 24 hours, told me what to look for on the computer, I called a local vet to get some baby formula, got a cage out of the barn, and thus began one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.
I am sure I did a million things wrong… so much of life is trial and error. I only hope, if there is a heaven, we get points for good intentions. Lord knows, I had plenty of those. If love counts for anything, that little possum was dearly loved, easily as much as her house mates, the cats. Maybe more.
We named her PITA. Not Pita, PITA as an acronym for Pain In The…, well, you get the idea. And she was for about a month. Well, maybe not that long, but it was because I knew nothing about how to care for her. It seemed I was taking Possums 101, 204, 336 and probably some graduate level stuff all at the same time! I was also learning how to do some serious research on the web and learning more about possums than I thought I’d ever care to know. And I was still teaching full time. Anyway, the name stuck even if the feelings changed.
One day, maybe after having her nearly a month, I tucked her in my bra while cleaning her cage. I did not have on a shirt with a pocket. After the cage was clean, the phone rang, I took care of that and basically forgot PITA was in my “pouch.” I went on to do the “housey” things, dishes, bed, laundry. PITA was curled up and sound asleep. I am sure it felt like she had found her mommy. The pouch was warm, there was a heartbeat to sleep next to – all the comforts of home. I remember the look of surprise on a friend’s face when she came in my back door which is designed to slam and this little face with bright black shoe button eyes popped out of my shirt and stared at her. Later that day when I took her out of her pouch, fed her and put her back in her cage for the night, she started to “sneeze.” “Tschew,” she said repeatedly. I was sure she had pneumonia. I was terrified. Remember, I really knew nothing about possums. I later learned this is how they cry or call to their mommies. PITA hadn’t caught a cold, no, no, she didn’t want to go into her lonely old cage, she wanted her new “mommy!”
In spite of my bumbling efforts, she outgrew her little cage and moved into a much larger one, about 16 cubic feet. She ran around in the house (with the cats locked up in a bathroom) and played in a small space out in the yard. Possums are supposed to be nocturnal, but bless her heart, we kept her on our schedule. I guess it was like working the night shift for her! I got mail from B telling me what I should do, mail from Dr Henness (yes, the famous Dr Henness) even several phone calls from Dr Henness which I valued more than a presidential handshake (I had one of those once, lets see, what was his name?)
By the end of June, school was over and it was time for our annual trek to the Poconos. PITA had just about outgrown her new cage, the largest I had here. “B” agreed to take her while we were gone, and probably until she was released, as I just did not have a full sized cage here. When I say full sized, I mean room size, walk in, outdoors, but with a roof over it.
So we moved our little girl up to the wildlife center. A week or so later, we began to train her for her eventual release. We opted for a soft release – literally an open door kind of thing. She would be free to wander in and out of her cage, but first we had to teach her to use a different entrance than the door. She wanted to use the door like everyone else. We needed an entrance big enough for her but too small for raccoons to get thru and get into her cage. Training took lots of time and lots of raspberry yogurt. See the picture where we are coaxing her thru the pipe?
At first we kept her cage as natural as possible with branches, leaves, the sort of things she would nest in and live with in the real possum world.
The heroine in all this was “B” who had to work not only with this little possum but also with a human who was basically clueless. Willing, but clueless. The long and short of it is, PITA was released, but came home badly injured and Dr Henness said she was not releasable. B was willing to keep a roof over her head, as it were, and Anna and I drove up to visit and bring crickets, flounder, bananas, a new bed, a better ramp for her to climb as she got feeble, kitty litter (yes, she was litter trained as a toddler) and whatever else she needed, every week-end. She slept in my old night shirt most of the time, had her own special dishes with “Her Royal Highness” on them. If all the children in the world could be loved half as much, what a wonderful world this could be. We celebrated birthdays and Christmas in her cage. As long as she had a belly full of crickets or fresh (never frozen, please) flounder and a spoonful of raspberry yogurt (all natural, none of that NutraSweet stuff) she was happy. Even full grown, she still nestled inside my jacket when the weather was cold.
I will end my story here as all good things must come to an end… but I will ask you to read more about these much maligned and misunderstood little critters. And if you see one toddling along some dark night, say “Hi,” for me, will ya? Don’t chase them, don’t hurt them, it might be somebody’s precious little one.
Here are some links you might want to check out -
Links: http://www.opossum.org/ - the BEST site for any possum info you might ever need, includes excellent on and off site links to your possum questions or needs.
Another good site is http://www.opossumsocietyus.org/. It has many links but not as much in depth info as the site above. (Just my opinion, folks)
Nice info but nothing to help with injured or orphaned possums - http://www.wildliferescueleague.org/report/opossum.html.
This 3rd link did include the following:
The opossum is omnivorous, feeding upon almost anything that it can find or catch: rats, mice, moles, slugs, snails, shrews, worms, beetles, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, frogs, garbage, fruit (especially persimmons), corns, berries, and even road kill. That habit gets about 8.3 million opossums killed a year. An opossum seeing an object on a road during the night may believe it to be road kill, and may either freeze in the headlight of a car, or try to run away. As opossums run very slowly, they often get killed. Opossums also enjoy eating snakes, and will kill and eat all snakes including poisonous ones. They are immune to the snake venom, and relish copperhead, water moccasins, rattlesnakes, and others.
Again, my opinion, the headlights probably blind the poor creature, so he/she just stands there and… well, around here, half the drivers I know will steer right for the poor thing.
Enjoy the pictures. Most are of PITA, some are borrowed. I spent several hours looking for and downloading (or is it uploading?) PITA pictures off old Kodak floppy-A disks. It has been quite a trip, lots of memories. As we pass thru life, we are given many gifts. Some of them we don’t even recognize or just take for granted. Some are so unusual we just can’t ignore them. PITA was such a gift.
We celebrated Christmas and birthdays, any excuse to break out the raspberry yogurt!