Saturday, February 23, 2008
I'm late getting this story up. I had it ready to download into the big computer but was just too tired yesterday. I had to break up a spat that arose over a piece of purloined salmon skin between Shadow and Max and ended up getting my hand bit. No biggie--Shadow nailed me but let go as soon as he realized he grabbed the wrong target. Shadow is well known for his love of salmon skin. When he was younger and it was just the two of us, he would raid the trash and hide the damn things in my bed.
Anyway...today's story is based on my one experience in wildlife rehabilitation.
Her running shoes slapped on the pavement in a rhythm becoming steadily more uneven. Kate reached a hand back to pull her shorts down from where they had ridden into her crotch, looking first behind her to make sure no one was looking. She hopped and skipped in her pace as she tugged the fabric down. Damn, she thought, she wished her thighs didn't touch. The causeway stretched for another mile and she longed for the bridge where she could stop and catch her breath.
The marsh smelled richly of decay, but it was a good smell all salty and sulphury. The tide had risen, lapping against the rocks shoring up the narrow road stretching toward the small island. The sun glowed red, coming up over the gold tipped marsh grass. A few marsh hens fluttered up, disturbed by the heavy tread of her shoes. Kate stopped herself from thinking about her stuffed marsh hen recipe.
A form emerged on the side of the road and Kate identified it as a recent roadkill. The moon had been full last night, she thought--dead critter moon. As she drew closer, she thought she saw it move and slowed to a walk. Approaching cautiously, she saw it was a possum, silver fur with black tips and pointed snout. The muzzle dripped blood onto the pavement, tarry and black looking. Five babies gripped to back of the deader than a doornail mother, not realizing she had gone. Kate prodded the dead possum with the toe of her shoe. One of the babies hissed at her.
Kate squatted down on her haunches and considered the babies. She could have run on and left them there. They would die slowly, but that would have been their fate had she not found them. She could kill them, giving them a humane death--it would be as easy as crushing their tiny skulls under her heel.
She plucked little possums by their naked tails, tucked them in the front of her shirt, turned and ran back home. She felt guilty about cutting her run short, but she couldn't leave the babies there and she couldn't kill them. Better to try to bring them up until they could go off on their own.
She set the possum babies up on the back porch in an aquarium belonging to guinea pigs past. Every morning she fed them, watered them and cleaned their bedding. And every morning they hissed, rolled their eyes and bared their teeth. The hissing was less like feral housecats and more like hellish exhalations coming from deep within the bitty things. They slept through the day until it was time for Kate to feed them in the evening, when once again they hissed, rolled their eyes and occasionally, tried to bite her. She wondered about their lack of gratitude.
After about two weeks, they began to eat each other's tails. Not only did they menace her when she tried to help them, but they began menacing each other. Kate called a vet to ask about the behavior and to see if she might be able to release them. She was hopeful about the last part since, despite daily cage cleaning, the possums smelled of rotting meat and garbage.
The vet suggested catching some squid in the river for them. Said they needed something chewy, other than each other's tails. Kate got some squid off a shrimper and gave it to them, but they had already developed a taste for each other's tails. Three of them no longer had tails at all. She used a stick to push them apart when they did that, but she couldn't be with them all the time.
She wondered how they would fair in the wild tailless like that. Kate loaded them up in the car and took them to a spot on the island at the end of the causeway. They tried one last time to bite her and waddled off into the woods without a backwards glance. She watched as they hissed their way out of sight.
Kate got back in her car and drove off, feeling relieved. She guessed she'd just let them lie if she ever ran into such a situation again. Or maybe crush their bitty skulls to put them out of their misery.