Messinger Woods Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.
South Vermont Hill Road, Holland, N.Y.

The Throw Away
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.

An Injured Opossum with the strong will to survive.

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.

The family 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 survive?

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.
Dr. Wade Examines Tripod! 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 hands.

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 euthanize him.

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.

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Messinger Woods
Wildlife Care & Education Center, Inc.
P.O. Box 508
Orchard Park, New York  14127

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