Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Jig is Up: Aki Catches Her Quarry

   Today started off like a normal weekday; I woke up and went downstairs to feed the dogs and let them out. Then I came back upstairs to shower. But as soon as I turned off the water, I could hear the dogs barking frantically. "Awesome—at 6:30. My neighbors are going to shoot me!" I thought. I threw on my robe and raced downstairs, expecting them to be playing together.
   Looking out in the backyard, I could see that Taylor was circling a lifeless gray body—and Aki had her jaws around it! I yelled "DROP IT!!!" and ran outside. Fortunately, Aki dropped it.
Looks pretty dead, doesn't she?
    The possum had blood on her sides and appeared to be dead. My heart sank. But suddenly movement in the grass caught my eye. There were three small babies walking all over the place, distraught by their unresponsive mother, and no doubt by the obnoxious barking.
"Back off, or I'll bite!"
Taylor maintains a safe distance...
    I grabbed Taylor to shut him up and dragged him into the house. When I turned to go back for Aki, to my horror I saw that she had picked up Momma Possum again and shook her. When I yelled again, Aki complied, and I was able to drag her inside. She had blood on her chin and on her neck. I wasn't sure whose blood it was. I knew the mom was injured, but hoped it wasn't critically. She sure looked dead, but her skin was warm to the touch. I collected the babies and placed them on their mother and headed inside, hoping that if she were faking, she'd soon take off. I went back to preparing for work.
"Mom? Let's get out of here!!!"
    A few minutes later I heard the dogs whining excitedly, and got downstairs just in time to see Mom staggering off with one of the babies clinging to her back. She slid under the fence into the neighbors yard, so I ran out to check on the family. I hoped the second baby was also with her, because I couldn't find it. The third baby must have broken its back legs, because it was dragging them. It dragged itself under the fence in the direction mom fled, calling out to her with his tiny wheeze, but she knew he was hurt and had left him. Totally broke my heart.
   Since I had to go to work, I put the little orphan in a dog crate in the back of my car (ironically, a crate on loan from Midwest Shiba Inu Rescue... now Midwest Possum Rescue!) and parked in the Hallmark garage in a shady spot. I went out at lunchtime to check on him, and was shocked that he was still alive, but could tell he was getting dehydrated. I tried to get him to take some milk but needed an eyedropper.
He looks just like Remy from Ratatouille!
If you think he's not cute, you have a heart of stone.
    I told Laurie about my traumatic day during our staff, and she jokingly dubbed the baby "Darwin" since he seemed doomed to his fate, which I think is actually a cute and fitting name. So Darwin it is!
   After work I rushed back to the car and was relieved that Darwin was still alive. I stopped by CVS to get baby formula, chicken baby food, and eyedroppers and headed home to attend to my little patient. Wanting to ensure that he was safe, warm and secure, I've been carrying him in my own pouch of sorts—an inside pocket in my fleece jacket. He loves it.
   I feel like I should acknowledge that most people probably think I'm crazy for finding "vermin" like possums to be cute, let alone that I would go out of my way to save one. I wish more people would give them a chance. People say they are mean, that they hiss, that they have beady eyes, hairless toes and rat-tails. I say they aren't mean: they just try to intimidate anything they view as a threat. Their sound does sound like hissing, until you hear it from the babies. They communicate with each other and with their mothers in hushed whispers. I could hear urgency in his voice when Darwin knew Mom was leaving. Their eyes are dark but surprisingly warm and friendly. And their amazing toes and tail serve an important purpose. They have great dexterity and grip strength, and their tails are prehensile, so they can use them as another tool for climbing and hanging on. I'm not the only one who thinks they're cool.
   At the very least, you have to give them credit for playing dead so convincingly that they can fool a possum-killing dog and a human critter-sympathizer. But check this out: I took a short video and it wasn't until I reviewed it that I realize you can see Mom breathing!