Pixie the Opossum
Recently, I went to pick up my friend, Ana, & she had found a new friend whom she named Pixie. Pixie is a baby opossum & Ana rescued him from being tossed away as road-kill with his mama. It was Mother’s Day & his mama had been dying for awhile after being hit by an unknowing car or truck on the country road where he was found. Ana watched as Pixie crawled out of his mother’s pouch & when her body was scooped up & carted away, he ran around in circles of distress. She picked him up with a plastic bag for safety & brought him over to her friend’s nearby yard. They tried to get him to eat cabbage leaves & grass & drip milk into his mouth but he would have none of it. When I arrived on the scene a little later Pixie looked listless & we weren’t sure how long he would live. Because Ana has a big heart, she wanted to bring him home & try to save him from the certain death of cold or as prey to a hawk or crow. Once there, we were able to feed him some cow’s milk from an eye dropper & looked up opossums on the internet to figure out how to care for this completely dependent little being.
There was a lot of information online about caring for opossums & we learned a lot about them; most important of which had to do with NOT raising them yourself. Little marsupials, of which opossums are the only species in N. America, are very dependent on their mothers for quite awhile & difficult to care for with specific dietary needs as well as the need for siblings, other opossums to help them become the opossum they are meant to be. Little Pixie already had fur, so was not the infant we had thought him to be. Opossums are born the size of a kidney bean, or bumble bee, completely hairless with closed eyes & no back legs. All they have to do is latch on to mama’s nipple & stay there for several weeks. There are usually 10-13 young jacks & jills (as the young are known) in a litter. They grow very quickly & our Pixie was most likely between 2 & 3 months old at about 4″ long. He was very curious & seemed to love to burrow his nose under anything. We learned that baby opossums need to be kept warm & when he wasn’t in his shoebox of cotton cloths (no terry cloth as it can catch on their little nails) laid on top of a heating pad, he enjoyed traveling in the pocket of a shirt where he could hear a heartbeat & feel the warmth of the human in the shirt.
One of the things we never did figure out (though we tried) was how to assist him in his elimination. Once we got him to a wildlife rehabilitation specialist (of which NY state seems to have at least one in each county), she knew just how to encourage this vital function & I’m sure he felt much better! Another difficult care giving issue is hydration: one website suggested subcutaneous injections of dextrose water which we didn’t feel prepared for so we kept offering diluted cow’s milk every few hours until we took him to his new home, where he was fed a special formula just for opossums that is kept refrigerated until it is mixed with warm water: he seemed to really like it.
We learned that when Pixie is 10″ long he can be released into the wild & that he will grow up better adjusted if he has other opossums to hang out with, each teaching the other how to be better ‘possums. Another thing that kept us from keeping this adorable little creature was the knowledge that in a few weeks he would most likely be trying to bite & scratch us, becoming aggressive, which is a good sign in an animal you want to release back into the wild. We also read that if you keep them, you’d better be prepared to have your furniture ruined & your house smell because, despite the absolute cuteness of the baby, they are a wild animal & will get feisty & stinky.
What saved us from ruined furniture & getting up during the night to feed the little guy, was NY state’s dedicated wildlife rehabilitators. They are listed by the DEC (dept. of environmental conservation) by county & we found several in our locale, all of whom responded quickly & positively to our request for assistance. These folks are certified by the state to care properly for injured or endangered animals including (but not limited to) raptors, rabbits, foxes, bears & other smaller furry things. One woman I spoke to had recently released a great blue heron that had been found unable to fly because of a fish hook in its wing & the fishing line that was wrapped around it. This is a volunteer position that requires 24 hour a day, 7 day a week attention & care all year round. Spring is a particularly busy time due to all the babies being born & the sometimes devastating effects of interactions with humans encroaching into their habitats.
We are so happy to have experienced a short time with our little Pixie & that there are people trained & willing to give assistance to animals in need. I encourage everyone to donate to their local wildlife rehabilitation specialist or non-profit organization & if you see a wild animal in need to get it to these amazing angels because if anyone can give them a chance at life, it is these dedicated folks. We are going to check back in to see how Pixie is doing & maybe even attend his release party when that day comes & we will feel so proud to have taken part in giving one wild animal a chance for life.