Rehab News – A Spooky Encounter

A rehabber’s work never seems to end; there are always animals to clean or babies to feed & tend to, and sick or injured patients to care for. The list is endless! So when the opportunity arose for a fun night out we jumped on the chance. Myself, my husband Chuck, our interns Sigrid & Julian, the other rehabber, Auriel, and Andrea, a volunteer, headed out to a local tourist attraction to enjoy being “scared to death” at their Halloween haunted house & haunted gardens. The event was jam packed with adults and kids of all ages. We went through the haunted attractions twice! The first time we jumped out of our skin by the actors successfully frightening us, & the second time laughing our way through.
   Standing by the entrance, my husband noticed an opossum toddling nearby. Always anxious to observe animals in their natural habitats we quietly made our way towards him. He disappeared into the bushes and I figured that was the last we’d see of him that night. I figured wrong! A minute or so later, people sitting and eating at the nearby picnic tables were surprised to see a full grown opossum right under their feet. It always makes me uncomfortable to see a wild animal that seems to have no fear of people. I decided to do a little test to see if he would take food from me. I held a muffin leftover from dinner out and to my dismay the little possum took it from my hand. Not proper behavior for a “wild animal”. He then waddled over by the gift shop and that’s where it all got crazy. People started screaming as if a wild panther was walking amongst them. Someone yelled something about a giant rat. (a common misconception due to the appearance of their tails. Opossums are not rodents, but marsupials, just like kangaroos). Another man passed a remark about how tasty opossums are. A staff person was unsuccessfully trying to calm the situation as the little guy became more terrified and almost ran into the haunted house! Now adults and kids were screaming and I heard Andrea yelling “Donna, just grab him!”
I caught him by the tail and held on so he could not run away. I kept his feet on the ground since it is very uncomfortable to dangle an adult opossum from his tail. He tried to get free but never once tried to turn and bite me. I asked the staff person to get me a box to put him in as the crowd watched, some intrigued, some terrified, some probably thinking it was part of the show. Once safely in the box the staff person said they would release it out back. I informed her that I was a wildlife rehabber and that this animal seemed too tame to be let go and that I worried for his safety. She agreed and admitted that he had chased after them a couple of days ago to try to get their soda! I brought him back to my house that night and set him up in one of my cats carriers where he slept on his back with all 4 feet in the air-totally comfortable. I feel that he may have been raised as a pet and then released when he reached adulthood. Even when “tame”, wild animals never make good pets, they are messy, can carry parasites, cannot be trained, and are unpredictable.
We named the little guy “Spooky” since he came to us at a Halloween event, and he resides happily at the Center where he has a large inside enclosure and an outdoor play area. He enjoys a varied diet and loves to sleep in his hanging basket. Spooky will be a wonderful education ambassador. His main message will be that you should never feed wildlife because they lose their fear of people and because it can cause many other problems for people and wildlife as well. While the staff and volunteers at the center all love Spooky, it still makes me sad to think that he lost his chance at being wild because well meaning people decided to feed/habituate him.
Next time you visit the Center look for Spooky in his outside play area!