Tripod opossum dances into our hearts
A recent recovery mission turned into a surprise rescue. At Peace River Wildlife Center we often get calls about injured wildlife that we are pretty sure there is no hope of saving. We got just such a call a few days ago. A lady found a Virginia opossum at the end of her driveway. She assumed it had been hit by a car, but was afraid to touch it to further assess its injuries. Apparently she does not read my columns or she would know the proper way to deal with an injured animal—especially since the previous week’s article would have assured her that opossums are to be appreciated, not abhorred. Since the scene of the crime was mere blocks away, I ran over to assess the damages in person.
Pulling into her driveway, at first I didn’t even see the little guy. Then I noticed the juvenile opossum lying at the end of the driveway right at the edge of the the street. He was not moving and did not appear to be alive, but as a professional wildlife rehabilitator, I have been fooled by those little buggers “playing possum” before and I was not about to “call him” prematurely. When I picked him up to place him in the carrier, he made a weak movement and I could see his chest rise and fall with a shallow breath.
Upon my arrival back at PRWC I had an emergency to deal with. A raccoon had been picked up at the landfill with a Coke can stuck on her leg. We see this a few times each year and it rarely has a good outcome. By the time we are able to catch the raccoon, the foot has swollen and is not able to be saved. This is one of the reasons it is vital to rinse and crush your trash and recyclables before disposing of them, to lessen the temptation of wildlife looking for a tasty treat.
After cutting the can off of the raccoon’s leg, I picked up the opossum’s kennel, expected him to have passed by then. I was surprised to see he was still alive. A brief exam showed no immediately life-threatening injuries. He was barely conscious, obviously suffering from head trauma. He had some minor abrasions on his tail, behind one ear and along his one side. It took me a minute to figure out what was wrong when I was trying to flip him over to examine his belly. I made a grab for the right rear leg, inexplicably missing it. Then I grabbed for it again. Looking closely at the little ball of fluff, I finally realized I wasn’t the only one missing that leg. It simply wasn’t there.
The stump was not a fresh injury, the juvenile male opossum was either born that way or more likely suffered an injury as a baby. He was thin, but had obviously been getting around fairly well on three legs until he couldn’t quite get out of the way of a speeding car fast enough. I hadn’t the heart to euthanize him if he was such a fighter, so we decided to give him some time and see what might happen.
After a few days he started to come around a bit more. He was still groggy, but he had a voracious appetite, eating everything we put in his dish. Now, over a week into his recovery, he is still getting stronger and more agile. He still has some balance issues, whether from the head trauma or because he is missing a leg or a combination of the two, we are unsure. He has a great appetite and a docile manner—he likes to be scratched behind his ears. He is currently in home care, but will likely be added to our permanent resident cadre if he continues to do well. Now the only thing he is missing (except for the obvious leg) is a name.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM