Mission Impossumble

For city dwellers, my family has had more than its share of unwelcome encounters with wildlife. It’s not that we don’t appreciate nature’s creatures, big and small; we simply prefer creatures upon which we can put sparkly collars. All others need not apply.

To control the burgeoning squirrel population on our street, we’ve armed almost every neighbor with a cat to patrol the periphery and keep the furry-tailed rodents from setting up house in the attic. Until recently, the cats had been handsomely compensated for their efforts – there’s not a skinny one among them.

During the dozen or so years we’ve lived in our current house, however, the encroachment of wildlife has included a waddling procession of possums that somehow deem our surroundings to be fit for their own broods. Despite what this implies about the curb appeal of our home, the beady-eyed squatters – who frequently slip under the cracked garage door for a midnight snack from the cat’s bowl – do little more than drive up the cat food bill. There’s been no hiding it from the cats, who have now figured out they’re doing the same work for less tuna.

The possums typically find their way to the space beneath our backyard shed: a cozy, private area where they’ll be sheltered and they can relax in darkness during the day. That is, until the McNuggets – our two half-pint dogs (in sparkly collars) – come outside.

Combined, the McNuggets weigh about one-tenth of what the shed possum weighs, but what they lack in mass, they make up for in their perceived badassery. When they’re not sounding their high-decibel, eardrum-piercing call-to-arms at the sight of a squirrel, the McNuggets are almost Lassie-like in their shrill warnings of the presence of a possum. “Something’s alive under the shed!” they seem to yelp. “I see you!” “You don’t live here!” “You’re mine now!” “Hey! A stick!”

As it becomes more complacent about the goings-on in our backyard, the occasional possum doesn’t even bother with the sanctuary of a sub-shed hideaway. One evening a few years ago, two very young possums made themselves at home right in the open, in the firewood rick on our patio – mere inches away from where I sat at my computer, on the other side of the glass.

It was a tense exchange. The three of us locked eyes. I shrieked, disturbing the napping McNuggets who merely yawned, stretched and rolled over. The possums, perhaps due to their adolescent sense of entitlement, were unfazed as I banged on the glass, screaming, “I see you!” “You don’t live here!” “You’re mine now!” “Hey! A stick!” Instead, they casually dismissed me with a scoff that suggested they now knew where the McNuggets got their training.

Inspired by a “Possum Trapping for Dummies” book, my husband took a field trip to the feed and seed store to buy a live trap (the E-Z One-Step Vermin Spring Trap: set it and forget it!), guaranteed to corral our backyard nemeses for good. For the uninitiated, setting a spring trap is a lot like configuring a Rube Goldberg machine. Worse, the performance of the trap is closely connected to the skill of the trapper – we spent weeks fattening up a particular possum on tuna and salmon bits. When we finally “trapped” him, it was because the possum had decided it was more convenient just to hang out in the trap and wait on dinner than to go all the way back to the shed.

One night last week, after spotting a blue ribbon-sized possum picking tuna out of his pointed little teeth on the way from our garage to the backyard shed, my husband set the trap again, strategically baiting it with the come-hither scent of Meow Mix tuna paté toppers. The following morning, he looked out to discover that the catch o’ the day was our own cat, Cleo, who was not the least bit amused by the folly of putting cat food into traps.

The live trap on the patio sits empty now, as does the tuna bowl inside. Given shelter and a regular feeding schedule, the possums are practically pets now. Like generations of possums before them, they have outwitted us at nearly every turn. Knowing we can’t properly set a live trap, they roll their beady little eyes at the hollowness of our threats to catch them and carry them off to Martin Park Nature Center one day.
There’s only one thing left to do … I’m off to buy a few more sparkly collars.  

Categories: Bits and Pieces, Lauren Hammack