Yesterday morning, as I was taking Penelope for a lazy walk around the paved paths through our apartment complex, I happened upon a nearly dead baby opossum. The little guy was cold to the touch and barely moving, but still breathing. There was hope yet! I quickly brought Penelope back to the apartment, grabbed a dish towel, and ran back out to scoop up the little baby.
The first thing I did was swaddle it up and put it up on a heating pad on low. Then I scoured the internet and asked my friends on Facebook for help, advice, whatever they could offer. One friend of mine was able to find me a number for the local chapter of the Opossum Society of the United States, which has volunteers who help to rehabilitate orphaned and injured opossums. I didn’t want to bring it to an animal shelter or hospital, because it would’ve been immediately euthanized.
I reached out to my boss, since I was scheduled to be at work in only a couple of hours and I didn’t want to risk leaving the little baby alone, even for a few hours until Kyle got home. My boss was totally cool with me bringing the little baby to work with me and keeping it in the back, so I packed Little Buddy (what I took to calling it since I couldn’t figure out the sex), some dish towels, and the heating pad into a cozy little box, and draped another dish towel over it to keep it dark and cozy.
On my way to work, I picked up some kitten formula (which, by the way, is nearly as expensive as formula for human babies) at Petco and headed in early so I could set Little Buddy up in a non-drafty area and try to feed it a little. It wouldn’t take any food, not even the formula, and not any little pieces of grapes I had on hand.
Things were going well. Little Buddy was still very wobbly and weak, but found enough strength to start hissing at me every time I tried to give it food. Also the crust that had clogged its little nostrils when I found it was gone, and its pink little nose was ever so dewy.
I made a call to a woman I found through the Opossum Society’s southern California phone line, and though exhausted from taking calls about orphaned opossums all day, she was glad to take this little baby from me. She would have me drop the little guy off at an animal shelter near where I work, and the workers there would get Little Buddy to her. It was late in the evening, the shelter was already closed, and I wouldn’t be able to make the drop until the next day. But I was feeling good. Little Buddy had made a miraculous comeback from the brink of death, and its fuzzy little odds were looking good.
When I got home, I ditched the dish towels (which were pretty smelly with baby opossum urine) and set up a cozy little nest – with the heating pad still chugging away on low heat – in the cat carrier. I dropper-fed Little Buddy some water, which it gobbled up, and set it up with a dish of mashed up bananas, which it did not touch. I made sure the windows were closed so there would be no drafts, locked the resident pets into their respective areas for the night so they couldn’t even get near the cat carrier, and went to bed.
This morning, Little Buddy was a little worse for wear. One little eye was glued shut with some mucous and it was a little more wobbly and weak than the night before. I dropper fed as much water as Little Buddy would take, gently set it up in the box again for a quick trip to a short morning shift before I would be able to drop it at the shelter.
By 9:30 this morning, Little Buddy had passed away. I had gone to check on it and was greeted with a stiff, lifeless body, still warm from the heating pad, but all life was drained away, all the pink flush was gone from the little nose. Living in an apartment complex with no yard of my own left me limited as far as burial options went, so I simply nestled Little Buddy’s body in the tall grass behind my job, under the freeway.
Despite knowing that the odds of survival weren’t great to begin with, it still hit me pretty hard. I had put everything I could towards saving this little baby, and it wasn’t good enough. I held it together pretty well at work, but once I got home, I just started crying. Kyle hugged me tight, and I couldn’t stop crying. Everyone assured me that I did all that I could, and that even people who know what they’re doing have a hard time getting orphaned baby wild animals to survive. Still, it’s utterly heartbreaking. I don’t know how people who see this kind of death all the time (vets, wildlife rehabilitators, and the like) handle it.
Rest in peace, Little Buddy.