by Judy Seiler
It was Memorial Day weekend
and I was the base/phone person. We received the normal calls, – baby
bunnies, baby birds, and questions regarding the behaviors of wildlife
in the neighborhood. Then, with one phone call, the weekend changed from
one of normal chaos to one of teamwork, determination and hope.
The West Seneca Police
department called, saying a family had found an injured Opossum in their
garbage can. Would I help? When Arline Adams and I arrived at the home
of Mr. and Mrs. Gross, we walked onto their patio and found two plastic
garbage cans. The lids had holes chewed through. It was raining, and
they had a towel covering the hole of the one with the Opossum in it.
When we looked in – what we saw was a very tired, sick animal who was
obviously in a great deal of pain. His left front paw was ripped
partially off, and its body had fallen down behind two bags of garbage.
All this poor little creature could muster up was the typical possum
sneer, he was not even strong enough to hiss. Arline and I looked at
each other and silently I feared this animal was not going to survive.
had been watching this little guy over the years. They obviously were
very caring people who took the time to cover the hole in the lid so he
wouldn’t get rained on. Mr. Gross even offered to help me get him out of
the garbage can.
Arline and I carefully lifted his poor little body out and placed him on
his side in the carrier. When we got back in the car, Arline turned to
me and said “Judy – I can’t help you with this – he needs more than I
can do”. Knowing she is weak at the sight of blood, I agreed, and called
Marianne Hites, who told me she would be over in 15 minutes so we could
get him to our hospital and do what we could.
I called Mike Olek and told him we were on our way. Once there, Mike
examined him and we discussed our options. We called Dr. Wade who was
concerned about the prognosis of this creature, and we considered
euthanasia. Even if Dr. Wade was to amputate his front leg, could he
Marianne and I started calling the National Opossum Society and the New
York State Wildlife Rehab Council members for names of anyone else who
specialized in Opossums. Documentation was provided from the National
Opossum Society assuring us that this little guy could be released with
only one front leg, and could survive. They need their rear legs more
for climbing, and they use that powerful prehensile tail.
By this time, Bob had the anesthesia machine ready to anesthetize this
little guy so we could clean the wounds and make him comfortable prior
to surgery. Surgery was already scheduled for the next morning. Until
then, he was hydrated, given some medication for pain, cleaned up and
bandaged. Bob turned down the anesthesia gas and gave him oxygen to help
him come out of his sleep. We all waited until he started moving around,
pretty annoyed with all of us at this point (and rightfully so). He was
placed in a clean, comfortable cage, and his vital signs were monitored
until the next day.
I arrived back at the hospital around 11 a.m. Mike Olek, Marianne Hites
and Bob Andres were already there. Our patient was already on an IV,
getting extra fluids prior to surgery, and Bob was checking on the
equipment, making sure everything was in perfect condition. We
disinfected the operating room before Dr. Wade arrived, then the
instruments were assembled. Now the room was prepped and ready. She gave
the patient a shot of morphine to assist with the pain prior to the
surgery. By the way, we all agreed that the only thing lacking in Dr.
Wade, were visible angel wings. She surely is an angel to give up her
Sunday morning to help us all out.
Surgery began at 12:15 pm. A video camera was turned on. Several of us
assisted, responding to Dr. Wade’s requests while she worked. Other
volunteers would periodically peek in through the surgery room window.
While Doc. Wade performed the surgery, she provided procedural
explanations. The 5 of us in that room had a major interest in this
little guy – mostly emotional – simply wanting to help it – but we were
all learning at the same time. Bob monitored his heart rate and
respiration. While the rest of us provided gauze pads, sutures, clamps –
whatever Dr. Wade needed at her fingertips.
An hour passed quickly as this little survivor kept us on our toes. He
weighed 6 pounds 8 ounces and for an hour and a half had a staff of 5
adults, one being a vet, at his disposal.
All 5 of us were focused on what was happening. This was such a
wonderful learning experience for all of us. The best part was the
possibility of returning this adorable little creature back to the wild,
where he belongs.
Finally, the last stitch was in place, he was cleaned off, pictures were
taken, and the anesthesia gas was turned off. The oxygen was flowing,
his body temperature was taken, and he was placed on heating pads, above
and below him until he regained consciousness.
When he came too, he gave
us a groggy possum sneer, and fell back to sleep. Now it was in his
I called Mr. and Mrs. Gross to inform them that the Opossum survived the
surgery and was resting comfortably. He was on fairly strong pain
medications and antibiotics and would need some intense care over the
next few weeks, but we were all going to do our best to get him better.
They thanked me, and the rest of the people at Messinger Woods for what
we do, and asked if he could be released back in their yard when ready?
They have been watching him for a long time and would really like him to
come back to his old surroundings. Obviously, I was thrilled to hear
that, and assured them that if he survived, he would indeed be returned
back to his territory.
Two days after his surgery
he continued to improve steadily. His surgery site looked wonderful and
the other wounds were healing nicely. Mike took all his vitals, and
everything was good. He eats very well and was provided with a specially
designed diet to help his healing and weight gain.
All the while this little
Opossum controlled our lives, Messinger Woods continued to function.
Marianne Hites admitted an injured Red-tailed Hawk, wood ducks, bunnies
and birds. Terri Pagels admitted 20 animals. Life went on at the
Messinger Woods hospital. The volunteers continued to feed those hungry
babies and watch life grow to the point of release.
That weekend, a group of us gave up our free time to come together to
stop an animal’s pain and suffering. Opossums are not many people’s
favorite animals – they aren’t pretty to look at – there is nothing
endearing about them to most people. But to the 5 of us in that
operating room – he was a survivor whose roots date back to the stone
ages and dinosaurs. He was this tiny little animal who couldn’t ask for
help but desperately needed it. That weekend, he was the sole reason
Messinger Woods was formed.
For those of us who love animals enough to devote our lives to them,
there is a great deal of compassion in our hearts and lunacy in our
character. At any given time, one is more dominant than the other. I
will let you all decide which one it was this past weekend.
The Opossum’s journey –
Our little patient had
endured a great deal over those weeks. His infections had been healing
nicely and although he was gaining weight, some badly decayed teeth had
to be removed. He was on medications for pain management as well as
parasite control. He suffered from time to time from small bouts of
diarrhea, which was treated and controlled. He gained weight from his
admission weight of 6 pounds 8 ounces, to a whopping 10 pounds!
We determined that this was not a young possum, but he certainly was a
trouper. He had escaped his cage on two occasions, causing the staff to
go on a search to find that he had wandered across the surgical prep
area, crawled up another bank of caging, and hid in small spaces.
Obviously, his amputated leg had not hindered his abilities very much.
He was affectionately named TRIPOD.
Sadly, on Tuesday, July 12, 2005, the morning shift arrived at the
hospital to find our little Tripod not doing well at all. Bob Dearstyne
called Mike Olek at work, to report that Tripod needed immediate medical
assistance from a vet. He had prolapsed and lacerated his intestines and
he had lost a large volume of blood. All the veterinarians who assist at
Messinger Woods were at their own hospitals. Mike Olek called Dawnmarie
Dains who immediately came in to rush Tripod to Dr. Tomaschke. Doc T
later called Mike to report that Tripod’s condition was not good, and
his prognosis was not good. A difficult decision was made to humanely
Although this outcome was certainly not one that the volunteers wanted,
Tripod left a very big mark on the hearts of all the volunteers and vets
who worked with him. For a month and a half, he had a full time staff of
about 15 people a day taking care of his needs and seeing that his
medication was on time, his cage was clean and his food was fresh and
plentiful. For the new volunteers to wildlife rehab, it was an
opportunity to see one of these animals up close and learn about them,
as well as gain much needed confidence to work with mammals.
For the rehabbers who have been doing this for a few years, it was a
renewal of our beliefs in what we do. It was proof that we do indeed
make a difference. Without us, this creature would have died a very
painful and lingering death in a garbage can, hungry and frightened.
Instead, because of all the wonderful equipment we have at the hospital
and the training we have all received, we were able to take away his
pain, fill his belly with good food, and, because of circumstances
beyond any of our control, end his life peacefully and painlessly.
I want to personally thank all the volunteers for all their hours of
dedicated care and hard work, and for those new volunteers, overcoming
those early feelings of uncertainty and moving forward with his
medication and care– both you and the possum benefited.
To all the vets who worked with him, thank you for your guidance,
teachings and never ending compassion, and pointing all of us in the
right direction when necessary.
There are pictures and sketches of Tripod at the hospital now, reminding
us all how one little funny looking creature affected so many lives in
such a short period of time.