Yesterday began with the usual routine. Toby ate breakfast while I made coffee. He had his plaque-removing biscuit while I poured my first cup. Then he waited at the back door to go out.
Before I could take my first sip Toby was barking frantically. When he didn't stop right away, I knew I had to investigate.
What I found broke my heart. A small opossum had collapsed on the ground just on our side of a six inch hole at the bottom of the fence. I couldn't see her injury and didn't need to to know she was badly hurt. Her ear twitched once as she made a brave effort to snarl, but she could only weakly lift her upper lip. Toby must have heard "Emergency!" in my tone of voice, because he sat instantly upon command in spite of his excitement. Getting him inside took only a few seconds.
I grabbed my phone and ran to the computer to begin searching for local wildlife rehabilitators. I tried different numbers but got no answer for several frustrating minutes. Finally I reached a raptor expert, who gave me the number for the opossum rehabilitator. I left two voicemails, hoping for a quick response.
I returned to the opossum with two beach towels and a laundry basket, having retrieved a pair of heavy gardening gloves. One towel went into the bottom of the basket. I draped the other as gently as possible over her. Sliding my gloved hands under the furry body while keeping the towel over her head, I lifted her into the laundry basket. She was still breathing but hadn't struggled at all. I knew then that she was in a very bad way; a wild animal will fight as hard as it can, especially when in pain. If it can.
I fought back tears as I dialed my daughter's work number at our vet's clinic. Thirty minutes had passed. I explained the situation. My daughter called the emergency animal clinic. They would euthanize the opossum for me if I brought her there. Or, I could wait for 15 minutes for Animal Control to open. They would come to the house and euthanize her.
I still hoped to hear from the wildlife rehabber, so I opted to wait. I sat by the little animal and softly stroked her fur, telling her it would be okay. She was silent, motionless except for the rise and fall of her chest. Then her breathing changed. It became ragged and irregular. Seconds later she was gone. Out of pain and peaceful.
I gathered my courage. Taking several deep calming breaths, I carefully turned the little creature over. She had been attacked in the abdominal area. Nothing could have saved her. Her wounds were too severe. She was a mother, but her babies were smaller than a jelly bean. No one could save them either. I snapped a photo with my phone. I had never seen inside an opossum pouch, and even though I was crying I knew that later I'd want to learn more about what I was seeing.
|Tiny babies, too small to save.|
I'm sorry this post is so sad, but telling the story illustrates how powerful the will to live and protect offspring can be. I'd like to end on a happier note, with a photo of an opossum mother and her adorable, out-of-pouch babies. These babies spent 2-3 months in their mother's pouch and will ride on her back for several more weeks.
|Photo Credit: Museum of Life and Science|