When Your Pet Needs a Pet

It’s the sort of thing that happens often enough in the country. Small woodland creatures wander up to your door. It’s no real surprise to come home and see a herd of deer grazing in our yard or even eating the shrubs flanking the front porch. A myriad of birds, including cardinals, finches, bluebirds, and three kinds of woodpeckers can be seen flitting from tree to tree on any given day. Driving moles and armadillos out of our yard and into the adjacent woods is an ongoing battle. There have been various snake sightings, but fortunately these are rare. In the last month, however, the source of most of our wildlife interaction has been at the hands of the unassuming possum. (Just for the record, I am aware that the official name is opossum. However, no self-respecting Southerner ever uses the full name of North American’s only marsupial more than once, and that is to simply let you know that they know about the extra letter, but refuse to use it.)

Our family of three humans is rounded out by two canines, Lucy (Boston terrier/pug hybrid) and Maddux (golden retriever – big of head and small of brain). They love it when people come over. These two could easily have been the inspiration for the cheese wrapper meme. But let another animal enter their domain and you will see two dogs get highly upset. This pertains to most anything with four legs, including frogs and lizards.

At some point today a little possum wandered through my yard, probably looking for food: fruit, rodents, berries – possums will eat pretty much anything. Perhaps he was even heading to the screen porch, lured in by the aroma of fresh Alpo. It’s hard to say. What is clear, however, is that the two sentinels noticed the encroaching beast and sounded the alarm. And sounded. And sounded. And sounded some more.

Lucy finally grew weary of all that barking at an unresponsive opponent and fell asleep in the sunshine. The first time I saw the little guy, Maddux was sitting beside him on the ground. It was a pitiful sight. I thought surely the critter was dead. At their best, possums are prone to looking pitiful, and playing dead is one of their primary defense mechanisms.

Thirty minutes later, Maddux and his new pet were reclining on the back porch. From my window vantage point, I could see the little guy was breathing. A few minutes later, as Maddux began to drift off, small gray ears began to twitch and one eye peeked open as the hostage cautiously surveyed his surroundings. He prudently kept his head turned away from the dozing dog and yawned, revealing a long, thin jaw lined with sharp teeth that he was oddly reluctant to unleash on his canine captors.

In what can only be described as a comedy of errors, at that exact moment, a red wasp swooped down from the ceiling fan and stung Maddux on the nose. Both he and the possum leapt up. As the highly offended Maddux gave chase to the aggressive insect, the possum – less than 18 inches away from the steps leading to freedom – ran as quickly as he could in the wrong direction – further trapping himself in the corner underneath the porch swing. Lucy, noticing a change in Maddux’s attention, seized the opportunity afforded her. A crestfallen Maddux dropped his massive head as he slowly realized that he may have gained vindication by gobbling up the wasp, but he had lost possession of his furry gray pet. About that time, Lucy noticed my presence and went all Guardians of the Universe on the bewildered ball of nappy fur. Deafened and disoriented, he resumed his only course of action – total and complete inaction. As much as I hated to, I knew it was time for me to enter into the fray.

Knowing my dogs’ greatest weakness, I ran to the kitchen and found some leftover barbeque. Maddux was an easy sell. One whiff of the smoky meat and he trotted willingly onto the screen porch. Lucy paused momentarily from her  barking to look up. She was tempted but not willing to relinquish control. It would take something truly fantastic to lure her away from such a major prize. After several failed attempts, I finally got her attention away from the possum and onto the tasty treat. Moments later, both dogs voiced their discontent as they realized that the meat was all gone and now a screen door stood between them and their would-be captive. Curses! Foiled again!

Phase One of my clever plan was a complete success. But, now what? I had to get that possum off of my porch and back into the woods where he belonged. I could shoot it, but that was unnecessary. He was not being aggressive; he had done no harm. I just wanted him gone, not dead. I could put on some leather gloves, seize him by his tail, and….no. Just, NO! Then, remembering a successful tactic from a few weeks back, I grabbed the water hose.

I sprayed the possum, and I wish for all the world I had a picture of this moment. I could almost hear him as he looked up at me with a weary, “WHAT NOW???” expression. Using the spray, I motivated him to leave the corner. Try as I might, I could not guide him towards the steps. With one frustrated look back at me, he bailed off the edge of the porch onto the ground.  After allowing a moment for the tired animal to collect himself from the two-foot drop, I panned back and forth at his feet with the water, encouraging the possum to head for the trees. Finally, he seemed to understand what was happening and picked up the pace, snorting and waddling off towards the woods.

I can just imagine what it would be like for the little possum to finally make it home: wet, weary, and empty-handed. “Sorry, I’m late, dear. No Alpo today. You are NOT going to believe what just happened…!”

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