This morning, as usual, I rolled out of bed and stumbled down the dark hallway with our cairn terrier rescues’ toenails tapping on the hardwood behind me. Like every morning, we passed through the garage into the sunroom on the way to Nutmeg and Nora’s fenced area.
Snapping on the outdoor light, I proceeded to the sliding glass door and saw a most startling site. A critter, the size of a cat, sat in the enclosure and gazed at me as if to say, “Oh, hi.”
At first, I thought it was a skunk, but I soon realized that it was actually an opossum, with a pink pointy nose, a grey coat, and a long, bare tail. I recognized this animal because of my experience with the opossums that hung out in our backyard at the old house when our kids were tiny. At the time, I was afraid my children would be eaten by one and regarded most wildlife as the enemy.
That was also around the time that a tiger named Tanya was being kept in a junkyard enclosure about three miles from our house, but, that’s a different story. A court order got rid of Tanya.
The opossum and I looked at each other for a moment, and then he/she lumbered away.
Now, there are two strange issues here. First, I wondered how the heck the animal got into the enclosure. The spaces between the fence slats are too small for Nutmeg and Nora to get through, and this animal was every bit as big as they are. Second, Nutmeg and Nora, who bark at just about everything, were completely silent and calm during this encounter. They just watched the critter, the same as I was doing.
Soon the opossum waddled out of my range of vision past some wooden stairs, and I wondered how I was going to let the dogs out. Was that thing trapped inside the enclosure? Would it bite my dogs? Would my dogs bite the critter, getting rabies and making a big, bloody mess?
I pulled on my boots and told the dogs to stay put. Once outside, I couldn’t find the little guy at all. I climbed up the stairs, so I could look around without the thing attacking me, but he was gone. Did he go down an unseen hole?
So, I let the dogs out, expecting them to catch the opossum’s scent and burrow to wherever he was hiding, but again, the dogs acted as if nothing strange had happened, did their business, and headed toward the door to get in the breakfast line.
Curious, I decided to do some research and came upon this site, http://opossum.craton.net/, which taught me quite a bit about opossums and actually made me hope that I see one again sometime.
First, opossums aren’t large rats, they are marsupials, meaning, they carry their young in a pouch. They aren’t “possums;” those are animals that live in Australia. North American opossums have opposable thumbs, so they can climb up and down fences with ease, explaining how it got into the cairn terrier’s enclosure. They don’t usually eat pets, although if they’re desperately hungry, they may eat a kitten. They get cold in the winter and sometimes suffer from frostbite. Their main predator is the automobile. Opossums aren’t dirty, although they will eat garbage if it’s left out. They don’t carry rabies, because they are resistant to the disease. All of that data made me less afraid of seeing our visitor again.
Recently, I had wondered what the tracks in the backyard snow were, and now I know. The dogs had been very interested in those tracks, too, so perhaps they had figured out that we had a friend weeks ago, and that’s why they didn’t freak out when they saw the visitor in the flesh.