An Opossum Story
by Pam Murphy
Some times you meet people who are selfless and give much more than they take. This story is just one of many that can be written about how Windy Ridge Wildlife Refuge helps those who cannot help themselves.
One warm spring night recently my husband and I decided to go to a local fair and hear local folk do karaoke. We had a great time and stayed out later than we normally do, but hurried home to tuck our new little chickens snug into their coop. I stepped out the back door into the chicken yard. All the chickens were already roosting and safe and sound. I was ready to go back into the house and tuck myself into bed, when I heard a little voice. It was vaguely familiar, yet different. I started following the voice not knowing what I would find late at night out in my back yard in the dark. I finally located the source of the cry. It was a little opossum, his eyes open, but obviously very young. Being the animal mother that I am, I scooped up the baby who immediately started to look for a place to nurse. I heard another little voice close by. There was another opossum baby not far from the first. I figured mom must not be far away since they were so young. I took a couple more steps and there she was playing opossum. I cautiously approached her with the babies. She wasn't stirring, but she was breathing. I put the babies on her and they popped right into her pouch! Then I heard another little baby close by, but I looked and looked and could not find it. I decided that the now wide awake mother would find her own baby so I went on to bed.
As most mountain folk do in early spring, we are busy putting in our garden. We bought bales of hay to mulch our plants and keep out the rag weed that loved to grow amongst all of our tomatoes, corn and peppers. The next morning our dogs and I were outside. I was spreading the hay and the dogs were lounging in the sun like spoiled dogs do. I was startled to hear that familiar little voice again. My oldest dog immediately located the missing baby. I grabbed the new baby out of her mouth and in the next minute heard another baby and another. I now had three apparently orphaned baby opossums. Now I know at this point some would wonder why I would even consider saving potential predators of my 40 chickens. Well we have never had any opossum harm our chickens. In fact they routinely eat cat food on the porch along side our cats. Perhaps they are so well-fed that the chickens are too much trouble or they just don't like chickens. I don't know. We decided to scan the internet to see what we should do with them.
We quickly found out in Pennsylvania it is illegal to keep wild animals and we knew we had to locate someone to take them, but in the meantime I figured they had to be hungry and they were cold. We set up a little nest in a cooler lunchbox with a heating pad. We found out that they needed hydrated with Pedialyte and they could be fed Puppy milk replacer. In the evening we sat on the porch with the dogs, cats and baby opossums. I heard another little voice. I thought oh no not another one! I looked down under a tree next to the porch and there was the mother opossum with the two babies. Knowing that we would have a doggy hunting free-for-all if I didn't get the dogs in the house, I tried to act like nothing was wrong, but all doggies had to go into the house now. They didn't buy it at all, but complied anyways. I hurriedly picked up the three babies we had and put them with the mother. They weren't quite convinced they wanted to stay with her and kept running back to me. I finally won the battle. Just as I was savoring my critter victory, I looked in the window to see my 80 pound yellow lab sitting on top of my oak desk next to the computer monitor and everything else that had been where he is now, all over the floor. So it was a fleeting victory.
Sadly the next morning mother opossum was dead. We don't know what happened to her, perhaps she had been hit by a car. We now had all five baby opossums to care for. We bought the pedialyte and milk replacer and took turns feeding them and, as we learned was necessary, help the babies to “eliminate” the milk with a warm rag. We did this three times a day for a week trying to figure out what we were going to do.
I took the morning shift since I work and am gone from home many hours a day. One morning that busy week I only found four babies in their little nest. We looked and looked and couldn't find him. I prayed that we would find him, but eventually we resigned ourselves to the fact that one of the dogs must have had a midnight opossum snack. I followed my daily schedule of feeding animals; chickens, cats, cockatiels, dogs and fish, traveling to work and coming home to feed again. I was in the chicken yard closing in the chickens when I heard that little voice again. I couldn't believe it! Across the chicken yard, was our little missing opossum. How he got there is a mystery. All I can figure is he must have latched on to one of dogs like only little opossums can do and took a ride outside.
We knew that we couldn't take care of the babies the way they needed so my husband got in touch with Windy Ridge Wildlife Refuge. Without hesitation, they said bring the babies right over. It was such a relief to have someone take them that knew what they were doing and could release them back into the wild. I took the babies out to the farm. I was grateful that they said the babies looked well cared for. Their little bellies were fat and they were very active. We did try hard.
Windy Ridge is a non-profit organization that does not receive state funding. They help hurt and orphaned animals out of love for the animals. We want to say a big thank you to them for being there. http://www.wrwr.org