Tiny Dancer

Litters of orphaned opossums come and go at the shelter without much fanfare, just lots of feeding to get them up to weight and ensuring they eventually eat on their own before heading out into the wild with their siblings. The needs infant opossums have when attached to a teet in Mom’s pouch are very similar to a human baby growing in their Mother’s womb. They are not ready for the outside world until the critical time period elapses, allowing sufficient physical development to enable them to exist on the outside. When we get opossums (usually due to Mom being hit by a car, unfortunately) at thirty grams or more, although still premature births, their chances for survival with assistance from an attending wildlife rehabilitator are pretty darn good, barring any injuries sustained during the family trauma. SO, when opossums are brought in or picked up that weigh twenty grams or less and have injuries to boot, their odds of survival go way down. That’s what happened on Wednesday, April 7th. I got the call that a Momma Opossum was “down” in someone’s yard close to the Library and although, she had passed, there were survivors, four out of eight infants to be exact. The man handed them to me in a tiny box, which fit them perfectly, because they were tiny, too. The scale in my triage digitally flashed 20 grams for the first weigh in – then another at 20, and yet another at 20 and the last one, 22 grams. After warming them and cleaning all the debris and dried fluids from their fragile skin, they, all girls, evidenced serious bruising and a couple were missing digits on their back feet. It would take a miracle (or 2 grams) if any survived. You guessed it, the only one to make it in those first few days outside Mom’s pouch was the little girl weighing in at 22 grams with all digits intact, but her skin was so fragile and peeled constantly. What little hair she did have was falling out. Great pains were taken to provide enough humidity for her skin condition and mineral oil, as well as, lanolin was applied to her skin until finally, the flaking stopped and hair started growing in again. When the hair started growing, so did the rest of her. I couldn’t help but name her Tiny Dancer, although we wildlife rehabilitators try our best not to name any animal we will be releasing to the wild. Tiny Dancer was always moving, she’s never quit moving. It was like she was saying to me, “I can make it,” and the flailing of tiny legs while eating from a syringe was her unspoken message, “See, I’m strong, just give me your time, please.” Today, she is 218 grams (7.7 ounces) of fluff and attitude, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is the sole survivor of her litter and I’m not ashamed to say, “I love this possum,” but fortunately, she doesn’t love me back. She nips my fingers with her many tiny teeth, hisses occasionally and is always trying to get away from me, which is exactly the way this little marsupial should be. She still has quite a bit of growing to meet the two pound requirement for release, but she’s on her way! I’ve been waiting for another opossum to check into the wildlife shelter that is about her size, so she won’t be alone, but so far, they have been too small or too large. Until then, it’s Tiny Dancer and me!

(Tiny Dancer spends most of her time sleeping in the bandana hammock at the top of her cage.)

Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of
“Save Them All”
http://www.bergman-althouse.com
http://www.owlsonline.squarespace.com

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