Meet The Ambassadors
Stuart and his brother, Mickey, were found in Stafford County in August 2018 when they were about a month old and just 27 grams. As he was the smallest of the two, he was named "Stuart" after Stuart Little.
As they began to grow and develop, it was determined through x-rays that they both had metabolic bone disease, a condition where their bones didn't absorb calcium properly. This condition is often seen in reptiles and, if left untreated, can result in physical deformities and death. Fortunately for Stuart and Mickey, it was caught early and was able to be treated with a diet of high-calcium foods and supplements.
Just when it was thought they were on the road to recovery, they were taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, VA to have x-rays taken again. At that time it was discovered that Mickey's elbows were severely deformed and, despite the fact that he was only about seven months old, they were full of painful arthritis. It was the veterinarian's recommendation that Mickey be humanely euthanized to keep him from having to endure any more pain.
Stuart turned out to a be a bit of a genetic nightmare as well. Although the vet does not believe he's in pain, as you can see from the x-ray pictures below, his hips are deformed. A normal opossum has hips like we do - complete with a ball and socket. Stuart's hips have no socket; the only thing keeping his hips in place are tendons. The result? He has a little more wiggle in his walk, but is otherwise ok. Will this reduce his life span? It's too soon to tell. But, in the meantime, he's an opossum doing opossum things, and is a fabulous ambassador for his species!
He has already helped to correct the misconceptions that many people have about opossums - that they are vicious, aggressive, and dirty animals that carry rabies and are to be feared. Invite Stuart into your life and you will see how awesome 'possums really are!
To see an amazing YouTube video of Stuart's Story that was created by Wild Things Media, click here.
To see the YouTube video of Stuart's first bath, click here.
(Spoiler alert: he didn't like it.)
Bobbi Sue came to me from another rehabber in November 2019 when she was about four months old. She is non-releasable due to having lost all but an inch of her tail. The details surrounding the tail loss are not known, as it happened prior to the other rehabber acquiring her.
Opossums have prehensile tails, meaning they use them like a fifth limb (like monkeys), and their tails are essential for balance, climbing and gathering/carrying bedding and nesting materials. In the wild little Bobbi Sue wouldn’t have been able to make herself a nice warm bed during the cold Virginia winters.
She is very much her own little opossum, and tasks such as grooming and nail trims often come with attempted nips to my fingers. She is a wonderful ambassador though, and has helped me to educate many people not only about opossums, but also about the power of resiliency and the importance of focusing on what you do have…and not dwelling on what you don’t.
Bruiser was a spring 2020 baby who grew, along with this nine siblings, to be big and strong. But, as happened with so many other things during 2020, things went awry. Two days before he was set to be released with his siblings, I accidentally closed his little finger in the cage door and broke it. Sigh.
So…he was separated from his siblings, brought back into my rehab area and was on pain medication and antibiotics for two weeks. During that time he became quite accustomed to being a “house possum” and decided that Awesome ‘Possumz was where he wanted to stay. He bonded to me and would routinely hold on tight to my hair and “slub” me nearly to death.
He is a big guy but his square head, squishy body, soft eyes and gentle temperament make him a great ambassador. He absolutely adores food; I haven’t found anything he won’t eat yet. A possum after my own heart.
Uncle Fester, another spring 2020 baby, had a bit of a rough start to life. When he and his siblings were only about two and half months old, they acquired dermal septic necrosis (DSN), a systemic bacterial infection that can be life-threatening if not caught early. DSN, also called “crispy ear”, causes the ends of their ears to literally look crispy, like frostbite. It also causes lesions on their fingers and toes and can cause patchy, sparse hair. In Fester’s case, it also caused a small lesion on the very end of his tail, which his five siblings delighted in picking at, making things worse.
So, like Bruiser, he was separated from his siblings. Up until this point Fester had been un-named. But he was such a weird looking little guy, with his boo boo tail, huge eyes, patchy hair and long face that I started calling him “Uncle Fester”. He and his siblings got over their infection, Fester’s tail healed (though he lost about a quarter inch of it) and he went back with his siblings. Over the next month I kept an eye on him to make sure they were leaving his tail alone and I started to notice that he wasn’t quite….”right”. While the others climbed on the limbs and things in their cage, there Fester would be, climbing upside down on the underside of the wire shelves. While his siblings practiced their balance, Fester practiced his falling (he actually fell on my head one day while I was leaning in the cage to clean it).
The others would run and hide in their box when I would approach; Fester would come out to say hi and see what was going on. He was a curious, fun-loving guy right from the start and that, along with his klutzy-ness (there is nothing physically wrong with him and he didn’t lose enough of his tail to affect his balance), earned him a job as an ambassador. As you can see, he outgrew his awkwardness (as so many of us do) and actually became quite handsome.
Sweet Pea rounded out the final of the three non-releasables for 2020. Like her mentor, Bobbi Sue, Sweet Pea also lost her tail, though the details of her tail loss are, sadly, burned into my memory forever. Sweet Pea came in with as a litter of fourteen babies! This was amazing in itself as moms only have thirteen nipples! She and her siblings were growing and doing great until one day I noticed that she didn’t come out to eat with the others. When I looked in their box, I noticed her curled up way in the back. I took her out and was immediately horrified to discover that all but about an inch and a half of her tail was GONE!
She was completely pale and lethargic. Although I’d heard stories of opossums cannibalizing siblings, I’d always thought it was in cases where they were over-crowded and stressed, but that certainly wasn’t the case here! The poor little girl, who was all of one pound, didn’t want to move or eat. It took nearly two weeks of antibiotics, pain medication, formula and foods rich in iron to get the color back in her little feet and nose. Once she was stable again, she had to undergo surgery on her poor little nub. Two additional vertebrae had to be removed and the skin was pulled over the end and sutured.
She made a full recovery and is the sweetest little girl. She can win over even the coldest of hearts with her adorable face, gentle demeanor and sassy little nubby butt!