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07/20/2007 Archived Entry: "Possum babies"

FROM THE "THINGS YOU'D RATHER NOT DO But Sometimes You Just Gotta" Department. I walked into town yesterday morning and spotted a dead oppossum on a street. Not unusual.

But as I passed, a blind, hairless, pink baby was squirming across its back. Oh lord. Feeling guilty, but helpless, I walked on by.

Couldn't stand myself, though.

I wasn't the first person to turn up at city hall, asking if they had any wildlife rescue contacts. A third person showed up while I was there. "There's more than one baby," he said. "Others are coming out."

No rescue contacts at city hall. The wonderful tech at my vets knew of a client whose dog was nursing a litter of orphaned possums. But that person couldn't be found. The tech said she'd keep trying. (I didn't know then that it wouldn't have worked, anyhow.)

Feeling I'd done something, even if not enough, I absolved myself of the sin of walking away.

Two hours later, the dead possum was still there. Babies wriggled in her pouch, sucking on nipples that had probably long since gone dry. By then (as a helpful lady and some children told me) a bird had flown off with one and kids had beat another couple to death with sticks.

Inwardly, I beat myself with a stick.

With the help of three remarkable women in three states -- an experienced possum rescuer (who also happens to be the woman who saved Frosty the Dog from death), the wife of an unavailable local wildlife rescuer, and the owner of a wildlife sanctuary -- I spent the rest of the day and the evening removing four babies from the dead mother (thank heaven the kind local stranger, B.D., was also a registered nurse!), keeping them warm, and trying to drip Silver's hydration fluids into their little mouths.

But the mouths weren't fully formed yet. The tiny creatures weighed only 14 grams. They weren't capable of sucking on the end of an eye dropper or a syringe. Saving babies that small would require intravenous fluids (or at least a special type of teeny, tiny nipple) and a lot of luck. Wthout the natural antibiotic properties in their mother's milk, they probably wouldn't have survived as healthy animals. In the end after a final talk with the possum rescuer and the wildlife sanctuary owner, I decided we had to let the babies go.

Possums at this age are like reptiles; they can't regulate their own body heat. I took them off the hot water bottle, let their little systems cool down, and they died in their sleep. In the end, by forcing myself to take responsibility for their lives, I made myself responsible for their deaths. All I did was save them from a harsher death by cats, birds, dogs, or kids. Not enough. Not even remotely enough.

But a lot of people (including about four who were willing to take the babies to the sanctuary or loan me their car so I could do so) showed their loving hearts.

Still, I cried a lot last night and did a little raging at cruel God, indifferent Nature, and inadequate human beings.

Posted by Claire @ 11:11 AM CST

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