Playing Opossum

Several days ago, I was in my garage doing laundry early in the morning when Abby shouted to me that Max, our dog, had pooped in the house. Filled with disgust for the human that was too lazy to respond to Max’s pleas to go outside, I grabbed a poop bag and headed for the reported dump site. When I got there, I found poop that in no way could have been Max’s. Max is a 75 lb diabetic dog who is on a very strict diet. His poop is big and consistent throughout, and exactly the same every time. This poop was small and filled with gray and white hair.
If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Animal Grossology exhibit at the Pacific Science Center (PSC), or if you are lucky enough to own a cat, you’ll know that when cats groom themselves, they ingest quite a lot of fur that they can’t digest. So they either hack it back up in the form of a hair ball, or they poop it out. Having been to PSC twice in the last month, I assumed it was cat poop.
One member of our family, who will remain unnamed, has been in the habit of getting up to let Max out in the wee hours of the morning and then leaving the door open while he or she went back to bed. I scolded this family member for the bad habit, because it obviously allowed a cat to come in and use our house like a litter box. The said family member agreed to a change of ways.
The next afternoon, Abby reported again. Cat poop in the same place. Beside myself, I scolded again. I was told that it must have happened during the day because the door had not been left open the night before. And there was nothing to be done about it. Max is diabetic and can’t hold his water, so if we’re going to be out of the house for any length of time, we leave the door open so that he can get out. Oh, and Max is blind. So if a cat comes in, Max might be able to smell it, and he might hear it, but unless a commotion was created, he wouldn’t likely know.
All week, Max has been behaving strangely. Aggressively sniffing around the house, knocking things over at night, barking. All-around squirrelly behavior.
So this morning at 06:00, Doug shakes me awake. (This, in itself, is alarming because if you know Doug, you know that Doug does not and would not rise anywhere near 6:00 unless their was a hair-raising emergency.) He says he needs my help. There’s a opossum on the dining room table and he needs my help getting it out. Just a bad dream, right? Wrong!
So Doug drags me, literally, downstairs to face this critter with him. Max is going nuts. He knows there’s something on the table. Max is on his hind legs, front paws up on the table, sniffing madly, but alas, he can’t see the damn thing because, guess what, it’s playing opossum. Yes, they really do that.
If anyone has ever listened to NPR’s This American Life: Crimebusters and Crossed Wires collection, you’ll remember a tale of a squirrel in a couple’s home and the mayhem that ensues. It’s one of my favorite stories, so I quickly suggest that we call for some animal control team to come and take care of this (unlike the characters in the story). Doug says fine, so I dial 911, knowing that they can patch me through.
911 Dispatcher: 911 Dispatcher, what’s the nature of your call?
Me: I have a opossum in my house and need an animal control unit to come and get it out!
911 Dispatcher: (snicker) In your house?
Me: Yes, on my dining room table to be exact.
911 Dispatcher: Um, we don’t exactly consider opossums wild animals. But I do have some phone numbers for some services that might be able to help you out.
She gives me 2 phone numbers and wishes me luck. The first phone number has been disconnected. The second phone number is for the county game and wildlife service. I get an automated message telling me to call back after 08:00.
We can’t wait 2+ hours for someone to come and get this rodent off of our dining table, but this is the last thing I want to be a part of. What if it goes nuts and starts running and biting and clawing? What if it runs under a piece of furniture, requiring someone to reach in after it? All kinds of terrible scenarios are running through my mind. And, this creature is just a giant rat to me, and I sort of have a rat phobia. Of course nobody likes rats, that’s perfectly reasonable. But ever since I can remember, I’ve had rat nightmares. The sight of a rat can stop me in my tracks and completely immobilize me. So this aversion truly has crossed over into the phobic realm.
Me: Can’t you call some big manly man friend to come help you with this?
Doug: I’m the manly man. I just need a little help.
Me: Can’t you call Jim Fox? He’s just a block away.
Doug: Together, we’re as manly as Jim Fox. Come on! What’s the trouble? Just hold up that blanket and be prepared to throw it on the opossum if he runs at you.
Me: (hands shaking, tears forming) I just can’t. Sob. What if it goes wrong?
Doug: Get ahold of yourself, would you? It’s just a little opossum.
Yes, it played out just like a badly written scene from a movie. I was the helpless damsel in distress, and Doug was the macho man who had to knock some sense into me.
Doug’s original plan involved throwing a blanket over the thing, then scooping it up in the laundry basket and carrying it out. I recommended hitting it with a broom so that we didn’t have to come within 3 feet of the thing. My broom idea won out.
We turned over 2 long ottomans to block a possible retreat back into the living room (away from the back door). Then we moved furniture in the TV room to again block any move away from the door. Then I held up a blanket, which was supposed to be a sort of moving wall, to help guide it in the right direction.
So Doug reaches in with the broom and gives it a pat. HISS! Teeth are bared. Damn, those things are ugly. Doug swats it again and it rolls over (on my dining room table!) and plays dead, but Doug’s pushing it with the broom towards the edge, so it has to stop playing dead and hold on for dear life. Doug finally gets it over the edge of the table, but it’s clawing to hold on. He frees its claws with the broom and it falls to the floor. Again, it plays dead. Doug sweeps it across the vinyl floor to the threshold of the TV room, which is carpeted. The opossum gets some purchase on the carpet and digs in its claws. Now Doug has to get a little more aggressive with the broom.
Lots of hissing and rolling and swatting ensue, but after what seems like an eternity (really it was probably more like 60 – 90 seconds), Doug finally rolls the thing out the sliding glass door and shuts it quickly.
Doug: Whew! Glad that’s done. Let’s go back to bed and get some sleep.
Me: Who can sleep after that?
As it turns out, Doug can sleep after that. I’m still wide awake. I had to watch to make sure the critter actually left. The stupid thing crossed the yard and sat at our fence grooming itself. Then it walked the entire fence line looking for a way out. Aren’t opossums tree climbers? This one would not go up. It finally rounded the corner of the yard that I can’t monitor from inside. I sure hope it’s gone.
So all in all, I think that opossum was in our house for the better part of a week. It pooped, surely peed everywhere (that’s the source of the funky smell we couldn’t explain), and ate food that the kids and dog dropped on the floor or left on the dining table (Ugh!). If anyone wonders what I’ll be doing for the next 3 days, you can rest assured that I’ll be sanitizing my home and re-shampooing my carpet.


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