Monday, June 8, 2009

Playing Possum

When some friends moved to our neighborhood from the coastal area of Northern California, they frequently commented on how "urban" our part of the city is, what with the occasional drug deal, sirens, and police helicopters flying overhead. Mostly on their street, of course, one block away from our placid thruway.

If this is The Big City, though, no one told the animals. Undaunted by any metropolitan characterization of our habitat, the critters have been around this year. We've had the skunks, twice; ants, too many times; bees, (see "ants"); a dead rat who appeared to have fallen to his doom from our palm tree; raccoons making a crime scene of our fish pond; and coyote sightings in the canyon. It's been enough of a zoo around our house that I'd even like to challenge my former neighbors, who have moved back to "the country," to a Wildlife Encounters Match. How many ailing opossum have transformed your front yard into a convalescent home, huh? How many dead rodents have inspired lectures on the Circle of Life? And by the way, dolphins which you can spot diving in the Pacific waves from your bedroom window do not count.

Our latest animal adventures began last Saturday morning, when I spotted a spreadeagled squirrel lying in the middle of the road smack (ha! punny!) dab in front of our house. We have a huge pine tree in our front yard which serves as a Squirrel Condominium Complex, so it's not inconceivable that rodent dramas would play out, such as high-speed chases along the length of our roof, strange squirrel mating rituals, and the occasional tragic accident. And it's possible a fed-up Mother squirrel, who had Just About Enough of her children's whining, decided to stomp across the street for a happy-hour glass of wine with the neighboring mommy squirrel across the street. I've made that journey myself, but I haven't been hit by a car en route, thankfully.

My children and I examined the sad squirrel, who suffered from a bloodied face and one popped-out eye. We discussed what happens to dead things (decomposition, burial, cremation), and what the circumstances of that particular squirrel might be (note: I did not offer up the Happy Hour scenario above). For lack of a) the guts (haha! Another pun!), and b) a plan, I opted to leave the squirrel right there, after pointedly showing it to my neighbor as passing cars drove over it slowly. The next time we looked out the front window for a Roadkill Check, it was gone. I figured someone called Animal Services.

But the next morning, as my husband went back and forth to the car with gear for work, he noticed the squirrel in the former resting place of the rat: beneath the palm.

"Did you see the dead squirrel?" he whispered so the children wouldn't hear.

"What dead squirrel?" I asked. "WAIT. Another dead squirrel?" He brought me out to show me the little corpse, which had the familiar flayed-out limbs and extruding eye of yesterday's squirrel.

"It was dead in the middle of the street on Saturday," I explained to my husband," and there's no way it walked over to our tree or a passing car chipped it onto our property."

So someone tossed it into our yard, thank you very much.

My husband left for work.

Then he came right back, running inside with a similar whispery breathlessness, pointing to the patch of curbside space where the car had been parked in front of our driveway. There was something smallish and furry huddling there.

"What is it?" I hissed.

"It's a possum!" my husband exclaimed. "I'm not sure if I ran it over or scared it or what...it must have been hiding under the car..."

We went outside for a closer look. The possum looked stunned, with a little dried blood on its head, drool leaking out of his mouth, and a certain feebleness about him that was both disconcerting, mildly cute, and suggestive of imminent death.

I called Animal Services to inform them that we had both a dead squirrel and an injured possum on our hands. Then I brought the girls out and we spent some time staring at the fairly immobile creature. They eventually grew tired of the actionless performance and drifted into the house to play. I sat on the curb, waited for Animal Services, and updated my Facebook Status.

Gradually, the possum began turning his head and surveying the scene. He appeared to be pondering a foray into the street, which I silently warned him against. And then, inexplicably, he stood up and began ambling toward our driveway gate. Hmmm, where are you going, Little Fella, thought I, as I imagined him moving permanently into our backyard. But finding our gate closed, he discovered a dark damp spot beneath a bush under our front window and settled down for a diurnal nap. Thinking he looked comfy and unlikely to bust any new moves, I slipped into the house for a quick shower and told the kids to get me if Animal Services came.

But they didn't come. And we needed to get on with our day. So I wrote a note describing the locations of the fauna needing attention on our property and duct-taped it to the front of the house: Over here, injured possum. Over there, dead squirrel. Unsmiley face.

We came home from many hours at the beach to find the sign, the squirrel, and the possum exactly where they were. And a message on the machine from Animal Services saying they couldn't find our house. I called them back.

Ms. Animal Services arrived and promptly told me dead squirrels were our business, not hers, and that dumping the rodent in the trashcan was an appropriate burial.

She inspected the possum, still curled up but willing to lift its head when poked.

"Oh yeah," she nodded. "It has distemper. See it trembling?"

Pictures of Old Yeller popped into my mind. "You mean rabies?" I asked.

"No, distemper."

Right, I agreed, thinking, I don't know what that is, exactly, and, that diagnosis might apply on occasion to Yours Truly.

"I'm going to euthanize him right here," she informed me. "In case that makes you uncomfortable..."

I shook my head. "Nope; I feel sorry for the little guy, but he shouldn't suffer any longer."

She threw a towel over our adopted invalid, pinned him firmly to the ground with what looked like trash pincers, and with a sort-of-free hand, pulled out a syringe. She attempted to yank off the top of the syringe with her teeth. Only it wasn't the top; it was the plunger part. I watched Deadly Euthanasia Stuff drip down the side of her face, and thought, Lady, please don't euthanize yourself here.

"Oops," she mumbled, "I hope I have enough left for this guy..."

And then it was over: injection complete, deceased towel-enshrouded possum in trash bag, farewell to Animal Services.

As for the dead squirrel, I surmised she would fit quite nicely in that there trash bag, and there was room in the Animal Services Truck.

But instead, I put her disposal on the "honey do" list for tomorrow.

1 comment:

Jared and Kate said...

Fortunately, most of our wildlife is still living. :-)