Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Possum Adventure

A week ago Sunday, in the wee hours of the morning, some thoughtless driver ran over an opossum in front of our house. I saw the animal and at first thought it was a raccoon, until I looked more closely and saw the rat-like tail. As I continued looking, I saw some sort of movement, but I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Then it dawned on me – unfortunately, it was a mother opossum, with a number of pups.

A cop stopped to examine the dead mama. He took a box and picked up the pups that had survived. I don’t know what he did with them, but perhaps he took them to someplace where they would be cared for; he left the dead animal in the road, and drove off with the living pups. I felt disgusted at the idea of someone being so careless, even ruthless, as to run over a helpless animal, and a mother with young at that. But I was heartened to see that her pups could nonetheless have a shot at life. I finished getting ready for church, and we left.

After we came home from church, I happened to take a closer look at the carcass on the street. To my surprise and distress, I noticed that there was a pup still living, one that the cop had missed. It was writhing on the street, poor thing. By this time, it had probably been close to twelve hours since the mother had been killed, and here this baby pup was still clinging to life. How could I turn my back on such a pitiful creature who, despite all odds, was struggling to live? The mother instinct transcends species. I carefully picked up the pup and brought him inside. He was so tiny, only two or three inches long, hairless, eyes still shut. Not knowing what to feed him, and having no better idea, I mixed up some baby formula and attempted to give some of that to him, using an eyedropper. I wished that I had had a pipette, as its size would have been more suitable for the tiny pup, but the eyedropper was better than nothing, and it allowed the formula to come out easily without sucking, and without letting it run all over the place. It seemed like most of the formula went on his chest, but he managed to get some of it in his belly anyhow – just like with my own baby, the movement of the chin and throat told me that he was swallowing. Not certain what the appropriate feeding amount was, and not wishing to somehow overfeed him, I quit after dispensing about 0.05 ml in this manner.

Practically and legally, I knew that I couldn’t keep him. I had no idea what to do or where I could take him, but I figured that nothing would be open on Sunday anyways, so I decided to wait and see if the pup survived overnight before doing anything. We went out for the afternoon, and I wasn’t even sure that it would be living when we got home. Sure enough, though, by the time we came home in the evening, I could still hear the pup’s “ch-ch-ch” noises coming from the box we had him in. If he’s survived so far, then chances are good that he can make it with proper care, I reasoned. I racked my brains trying to think of who could take care of it, and finally googled around to come up with a few local possibilities. Armed with contacts and phone numbers, I was put at ease knowing that there were several possibilities to find help for my adopted pup, should the little fighter survive another 12 hours or so. I fed the pup after we got home, and once more before retiring for the night.

In the morning, I fed the pup breastmilk this time, figuring that if he was tolerating baby formula, then perhaps breastmilk would be even better. I then called several contacts, leaving messages about the orphan I had on my hands. Finally, I was able to speak with someone at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center, who said that they could take the pup. Needless to say, I was relieved to find a rehabilitator.

Of course, during all this time, my daughter kept on saying, “But I wanted to keep the baby possum – he’s so cute! Why can’t we keep him?” It seems that no amount of patient explanation will produce a satisfactory answer to this question for a four-year-old….

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