Texas Treehugger | "All Life Matters" | Text and Photograph by Christy Ilfrey

A few days ago I found a dead opossum outside our door. When I tried to remove it, I discovered a baby outside its mother’s pouch still attached and trying to feed. A few moments later the baby retreated inside momma’s pouch which was alive with activity. As it turns out, baby had siblings who were also attached and feeding. I knew if they were to survive, I had to act fast.

Immediately I started calling all the local rescue organizations I knew. None in the Coastal Bend are equipped to rehabilitate orphaned opossums. However, they referred me to other entities who might take in all four ‘possums and nurse them along. I called, texted, emailed, sent Facebook messages. I posted a photo of one of the babies on Facebook and made a plea for help. Friends from other parts of the state and country joined my search. Innumerable experienced wildlife “rehabbers” in other locales made contact with me and passed along suggestions. Local friends shared my post. Suddenly I found myself to be the surrogate mother to four very young, very fragile little creatures.

I read articles online written by seasoned rehabbers. In between feedings and “stimulations” and attempts to warm them, I continued my search for experts. Soon I discovered that although I was doing everything I possibly could, what these babies really needed (and what the law mandates) was a certified wildlife rehabilitation specialist. All rehabbers in our area that I located in online searches had passed away, retired or moved on. Nobody could or would help “my” four desperate babies…

Every 2-3 hours I fed them as I was instructed. I set my alarm to wake me in the middle of the night to make sure they were getting proper nutrition and hydration. But by morning the weakest of the four had declined sharply and would no longer feed. "Courage" – because he fought bravely to survive – passed around lunchtime. "Perseverance" passed a couple of hours later. The remaining two babies were active and still taking formula and "potty breaks." But then "Spot," named for the dark patch on his tail, took a nosedive. My heart was breaking: their momma picked my family to care for them and we were failing her. Just when I thought there was no hope, someone who saw my post on Facebook called and offered to pick them up and deliver them to a friend who is a veterinarian in Port Aransas. The doctor agreed to take them on and – according to those who know her – if anyone can save them, she can. As I write this, I am mulling over the news I received a moment ago about "Spot" and "Sunflower," whom our daughter named to represent the sun, the giver of light and life. They, too, have passed.

Today I feel their absence and write this with a heavy heart. Opossums are perhaps the most misunderstood small mammal. Instead of perceiving them as pests or destroying them, we should simply allow these natural “groundskeepers” to do their job: to control insects, venomous snakes and rodents.*  I’m sad poor momma died and that she left babies unable to care for themselves. I’m sad for the loss of "Courage," "Perseverance," "Spot" and "Sunflower," and that they were too young and weak to be orphaned. And I’m also sad for the countless other orphaned and/or injured opossums, raccoons, squirrels and other land-dwelling mammals here in the Coastal Bend left without access to proper care. Though my heart grieves, I feel immensely grateful for the experience to learn to love another of our local natives.

*Please read “Making Peace with the ‘Possum” www.dfwwildlife.org/opossum.html

Christy Ilfrey and her husband David own and operate NativeDave.com. Their mission: "To make positive changes in our community by way of sustainable landscape design and consultation services, speaking engagements and writing projects. We strive to educate, entertain and empower audiences to conserve, preserve, restore and celebrate Nature."

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