Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Another Visitor to Our Yard
I had just started mowing our yard on Sunday afternoon when I saw it. After one pass around the edges, I came back up to the house, and saw the rump of a young possum, snuggled up against the brick crawlspace. I thought, this probably isn’t good and I wondered where the hell he came from, because he (I don’t know if it was a male or a female, but I’m referring to it as a “he.”) wasn’t there three minutes earlier. And because possums are nocturnal, and here it was about 4:45 PM, this was just odd, even though we do have them in our neighborhood, along with assorted birds, raccoons, the occasional fox, and even snakes.
I clapped my hands and tried to scare it off, but he wasn’t budging. In fact, he continued to dig and creep along the bricks like I wasn’t even there. It was a little guy, maybe just 12 inches long plus his tail. Still, I gave him a wide berth, and got almost in front of him, clapping and making noise the whole time. This was one brave little possum. But when I did get in front of him, that’s when I saw his face.
Half of it was missing.
He had a lower jaw with teeth and a tongue (that looked either suntanned or callused from being exposed all the time), and he had eyes and a forehead (with everything he should have from that point up), but he was missing his nose and all of his upper jaw. The fur was gone from his face and it formed am upside down V between his eyes of black, probably infected, scabbed over skin. I thought at first: Holy shit, did I run him over with the mower? It was a disgusting thought. Then I realized, if I had, there would have been blood and screaming, from both him and me. No, this was not a fresh wound.
The more I watched him, creeping around the border of my house like a careful oversized mouse, I thought he was deaf. But the more noise I made, I realized his ears were twitching to the sounds. And then as he made it to my front step for a little rest, he just about fell off the steps…because he couldn’t see them. He was blind as well. Despite being a blind, wounded, baby possum, he showed no fear of me. I probably could have picked him up by the tail and he wouldn’t have cared, because who knows who or when he was injured so severely. Maybe he wasn’t afraid of me because he’d never seen a human. He never even once played dead for me.
It was hotter than hell that day, damn near 100 in just air temperature. The heat index may have been a few degrees higher. He looked like he was panting, based on how his little sides moved. It was kind of hard to tell for sure since he had no muzzle and his tongue was already out. A couple times, he settled down for a bit to relax. He looked exhausted. I told my husband to keep Cujo inside so he couldn’t bother the possum. I couldn’t just leave the poor little animal out like that. And what kind of quality of life could he possibly have? I think he may have been living under the hose reel box in the side yard, because he wanted to hide under there.
I called Animal Control for some advice. I was basically told that since it was a wild animal, they wouldn’t do anything for him, and if he died, they’d tell me how to bag up his body for disposal. At this point, the little guy was looking worse. Flies were all over the exposed skin of his face, even his eyes. I called a local (over in the next zip code) wildlife rehab group and left a message around 6 PM. I coaxed him into a bucket so I could get him out of the sun for awhile, but he decided he wanted to be free and very nicely and calmly left the bucket for the safety of the back yard and hid behind the hose reel. When he laid down to itch his face, I thought I was going to start sobbing like a baby: using a back paw, he itched his right eyeball until it bled and didn’t seem to care. The bleeding didn’t last long and it clotted quickly.
Since he had settled down again, I started my mowing and kept an eye on him. Do you know how awkward it is to mow with one hand because you’ve got your phone in the other hand? I didn’t have pockets in my shorts and I needed to keep my phone handy in case the rehab place called. I tried sticking it in my bra but that was just super uncomfortable. On a hot day, I don’t want a rectangle of plastic in my cleavage because I would have been sweating all over it.
I kept wondering when the fuck the rehab group was going to call me back. This was so unfair to the possum. And as someone who has done dog rescue, this struck me as unprofessional.
I even went inside to get cleaned up a bit. The rehab’s website said they closed at 8 PM. By the time 8:15 rolled around, I went back outside, found the possum (probably a Virginia opossum), and scooped him back into the bucket (thank god for work gloves and unused bamboo tiki torch supports). Three houses away from us is an empty lot on the water with a ton of overgrown vegetation in the back. It wasn’t the best solution, but I figured the little guy would have a better chance at survival if he was back there.
The rehab place left me a message at about 9:15 that night. The woman was so blasé about it and gave me another number at which to call her. I was irritated so I didn’t call her back. What would I have told her anyway?
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking about that little deformed face and how brave he was, like it was no big deal. I purposely chose to not take his picture, even though I had plenty of chances. It felt like I would have been exploiting him somehow. Hey guys, check out this freak of nature I found! Look at the little monster!! No, this wasn’t like the raccoon that scared the shit out of me last year; this was an animal that had probably been attacked by another animal and needed some sort of help along the way. Would the rehabbers have even been able to do anything for him, or would they have euthanized him? I could see the benefits of both.
Every time I go outside now, I check the road and along our crawlspace for him. I’ve moved some rocks to the hose reel box to block it off. It’s too out in the open for his safety, at least, in my opinion. Despite never actually touching him (I did think about trying to pet him but didn’t actually do it), I guess I became strangely attached to him in that short period of time.