April 25th, 2009


For the Ones Who Are Still Alive

Twelve Baby Possums Baby Possums

At 3PM, I decided to try calling the wildlife sanctuary one more time. This time, they were open and a woman answered the phone.

"If you can get the opossums to us ... " she said, after I explained

"I don't have a car. How late are you open?"

"Until 5." Lut doesn't even get home until 5. "We're open from 9 to 5 tomorrow."

"Okay ... um ... I guess I'll put the babies in a box and take them in tomorrow morning?" If they live that long. If they're still alive now, and no dog ate them and Animal Control didn't come early and kill them when they took the mother's corpse.

I hadn't taken lunch yet, so I skipped it and ran home at 4:50. Literally ran: I'd planned to jog home anyway, although I skipped the extra mile or two of jogging I'd normally do. When I got home, I saw that a couple of the babies had started roaming away from the mother; one was a couple of feet away. They're little things, mouse-sized and looking a lot like mice with large heads and thick hairless tails. I stepped past them to get the key from the garage, and dashed into the house to get a box and gloves and whatnot. While I was grabbing stuff from the house, Lut managed to get home and not run the roaming baby over or anything. He was wondering why the garage door was open and was going to look for a box himself when I came out with a big plastic tub.

I started scooping up baby possums and putting them in the tub. I don't know how many baby possums I was expecting. I'd seen a couple of tails last night, so I was thinking ... maybe three or four? There were a couple roaming loose. And then more tucked against their mother's corpse. And then more underneath her. And more still inside her pouch.

Prying baby possums out of their dead mother's pouch is not as hideous as I thought it would be, but still not fun.

When I was done, I had twelve baby possums in a big plastic tub.

We did some quick research online. When I decided to do this, I was thinking "OK, I'll just put them in a box with a towel and some water in the basement and whoever survives can go to the wildlife shelter tomorrow, if any of them do".

This project suffered from serious scope creep.

I took them inside, took them to the basement, and decided that it was too cold in the basement for them. What little research I'd done said to keep them warm, surround them in soft cloth, and don't use terrycloth because their teeny claws can get hooked in the cloth loops and cause injury. So I got some old clothes that don't fit and I don't like out of the basement, and then Lut got more old clothes and another tub because I decide to clean them off (they were covered in foul yellowish goop which was, at a guess, varying parts urine, feces, and decaying corpse) and express them (another one of the recommended first-aid steps with orphaned baby possums; they need manual stimulation to eliminate. This, too, was less awful than it sounds but still not on my top ten list of Fun Activities). So I would take a dirty possum from the first tubful, clean it, express it, and put it in the tub of clean possums. When I first started gathering them up and moving them, they were all very anxious and squirmy and active. They made little chuffing noises that sounded like a cat sneezing. As time passed they quieted down, getting less worried. I hope. As opposed to, say, slowing down in activity because they were dying.

While I cleaned possums, Lut trundled off to the store to get an eletrolyte solution to try to feed them and a converter socket for the light in the extension to turn it into a power outlet so I could plug a heating pad in. By the time he got back, I'd discovered the heating/massage pad we had wasn't working for heat. So I went back to the store to buy a heating pad. I tried to feed them the electrolyte solution but none of them seemed interested in licking or suckling.

At the moment, they're wrapped up and warm. I left a moist sponge with them, as a compromise between "don't try to feed them because they'll get aspirate" and "they'll die of dehydration". One of the sites recommended a sponge to simulate the moist warmth of the pouch anyway. They're sleeping now, except for when I go out to make sure they're still alive and warm, at which point some of them chuff at me, and the rest try to get some rest and all of them wish I'd stop bugging them. The heating pad has an automatic shut-off, so I keep having to turn it back on.

They're really quite cute. Cuteness is definitely a survival trait.

I hope they make it another eight hours until I can get them to the wildlife sanctuary.

Possum Update

It was an interesting night.

Lut suggested I set an alarm for a couple of hours after I went to bed, so that I could turn the heating pad back on. The heating pad has an automatic shut-off as a safety feature. In this case, it was an unsafety feature, but I couldn't disable it and it had been the only model WalMart had in stock.

I have a peculiar quirk: I don't have a great time sense but I have a reliable internal alarm clock. The only time I oversleep is when I wake up, decide I don't want to get up after all, and go back to sleep. Even that is a very rare event for me. So I didn't set an actual alarm clock, but I told myself as I was going to sleep at about 1:30AM: "Remember, you want to wake up in two hours to turn the heating pad back on for the baby possums."

I woke up with Ash sitting next to my face and mewling at me. I petted her sleepily, and thought, I need to be awake for something. It's not petting the cat. Why do I need to be awake? It took about a minute for oh, baby possums to surface. I got up. It was 3:30AM. I went out to the foyer, turned the heating pad back on, refreshed the sponge with more warm water, woke some hapless baby possums to make sure they weren't dead, and lay down to go back to sleep. Then got up again to make sure that the door to the foyer was closed again (it was) and both cats were on my side of it and not the possum side of it (they were).

Fifteen minutes later, Lut woke, went to the bathroom, and asked me "Do you want to reheat the possums?"

"Already did."

I went back to sleep.

4:30AM: Woke again, got up, turned on the heating pad, skipped waking the possums this time, went back to sleep.

5:30AM: Woke from a dream about baby possums. Turned on heating pad, woke possums (still alive), changed out sponge, turned off light in foyer. Started to lay back down, turned around, and switched light in foyer back on because the heating pad socket is on the same circuit as the light.

6:15AM: Went to check on possums. Carefully closed door to foyer. Spotted Callie in foyer with me. "Ack! How did you get in here? Get out! No you can't eat any baby possums!" Shooed Callie out. Checked on possums, who'd grown a few inches and were happy and excited to see me and started jumping on me and crawling all over me. "Aww, you're even cuter than before, you look kinda like kittens ... wait, I'm dreaming again, aren't I?" Woke up. Waited 15 minutes, reset heating pad (some of the "turned on heating pad" were really "turned it off and turned it back on again to reset the auto shutoff timer", because it doesn't shut off for an hour or so and sometimes I checked it before it had shut off), only woke a couple of possums to make sure they were still alive. Lay down again. Got up to make sure door was still closed (it was) and cats were on the right side of it (they were). 10 minutes later, Lut called out, "Do you want to reheat the possums?" "Already did."

7:15AM: Woke up, reset heating pad , turned around to lie down again, stopped, checked door (closed) and cats (with me).

8:10AM: Woke up. Stayed awake this time. Changed sponge, reset heating pad, got dressed. Woke all the possums to make sure they were still alive. They were! All twelve of them! Yes! They made their little cat-sneeze "chh! chh!" noises at me, and I made "chh" noises back at them. Took some photos of the possums with my real camera as opposed to the crappy cellphone camera. D'aww, so cute. I'll post more pictures later.

Lut got up shortly thereafter, and we set out a little before 9 for the nature center. We went over the bits of care rendered to the possums and that they hadn't really eaten or drank yet, and the woman at the center took them into the back area to extract them from my tub into one of their containers. I asked her to take a picture of them in their new environment for me, which she did (posted below). They won't be staying at the center: the center has home rehabilitators, and one of them will come pick the babies up. Hopefully today.

So, they were all alive and seemed reasonably healthy the last time I saw them. Maybe with luck they'll make it after all. I am tired now, and I put more effort into doing this than I think was necessary -- it was a warm night and I fully expect the possums would've been fine without the heating pad at all -- after all, they'd survived Thursday night outside without any source of heat. Nonetheless, I'm glad I did it anyway, for a bunch of reasons. Yay possums!

Bucket o' Possums Bucket o' Possums
Baby possums ensconced in a bucket at the Lakeside Nature Center