Possum Patrol

CoonPredators skulk everywhere. Chicken coops, rabbit hutches, garbage cans, or dog food bowls; they’re not picky. A forgotten peanut butter and jelly sandwich from your six-year-old is just as likely to be filched up by a coon as is an unguarded clutch of eggs. Actually, I believe it more likely since no animal on Earth is known to care enough about the remains of a PB&J sandwich to protect it and the fact that it tastes better than raw eggs.

One of the burdens of livings outside city limits is the necessity to protect your property; land, livestock, machinery, wives and children, etc.

Your barn, attic, and crawlspace are prefabricated, and sometimes furnished, living quarters for any number of wild animals too lazy to dig out their own. Animal feed, household refuse, and especially gardens turn your homestead into a Home Town Buffet for critters you never intended. It’s like having Millennial children who graduate college and won’t leave home.

When they feel like a little entertainment, the more adventurous of these freeloaders go after the most vulnerable of your menagerie. A horror I have yet to experience is peeking into my chicken coop to discover decapitated hens strewn about the floor. I get a raccoon taking a single chicken, but the destruction described by victims of these attacks, even if in response to a defense mounted by the birds, speaks to a violent streak in Procyon lotor.

I haven’t always lived in an area where it is perfectly legal and acceptable to use my back porch as a deer blind.

images (64)Where I grew up, despite pockets of orchards left over from the days before the IT explosion, was a post-War, suburban ghetto; a former bedroom community of San Francisco with an inferiority complex. The neighbors on one side raised chickens. The neighbors on the other side attended the opera. Luckily for me and Jake, the neighbor behind us never ventured to the rear of her property and left it mostly overgrown with vegetation. Had she ventured into the heart of darkness, she would have found all manner of pellets, BBs, and arrows that ricocheted their way over the fence, the skeletal remains of several birds and squirrels Jake and I sharpened our marksmanship skills upon, and a whole mess of 30-06 cases.

You can get some serious hang-time from a 30-06 case filled with gunpowder, tapped upside-down into a tree stump, and ignited with a piece of twisted toilet paper jammed into the flash hole.

Luckily, our redneck rocketeering never touched down in the yard of our chicken ranching neighbors. They would have snitched me and Jake off to our parents for sure.

fox terrierIn addition to chickens that would peck off the finger of any child dumb enough to stick one through a hole in the fence, these same neighbors had a pack of Toy Fox Terriers that were convinced they were Doberman Pinschers. God willing, every one of them is dead by now.

These annoying rat dogs prowled the fence line incessantly barking whenever my brother and I were in the backyard, which was pretty much all daylight hours during the summer.

One hot June day, the head rat dog broke off a piece of fence big enough to stick its head through. As the little dog snarled and barked with its head jammed through the hole to its shoulders, our German Shepard Harry sauntered up, lifted his leg, and pissed all over the other dog’s head.

Having proven his point, my dog trotted away leaving a wet and enraged Fox Terrier standing with its head through a hole in the fence. Jake and I recognized an opportunity for shenanigans when presented. We ran up, pulled out, and both proceeded to followed Harry’s lead.

Seven pounds of piss-soaked, humiliated dog sure can muster up a lot of demon.

The little rat dog was determined to kill us. It strained against the fence, growling and snapping at the pee streams.

I’ve had several dogs over my life; a couple were terrible, and I was happy to be rid of them. A couple were fantastic, and I was truly sad when they met their ends. The last dog I put down was in 2009. A friend told me at the time that losing a good dog, and Molly was one of the best, is as close to losing a child as a person can experience. I think he’s right.

Even the best dogs have eccentricities. Maybe the eccentricities are what make a good dog great. This is probably the wrong paragraph in which to place this sentence, but here goes anyway. Molly was a racist. She didn’t like blacks, but was fine with every other group of people.

When she was really advanced in age, Molly wouldn’t even bother getting up to express her bigotry. Molly would stay laying where she was and woof under her breath, often not lifting her head off the ground. Maybe it was the dog version of dementia like when my former Grandmother-in-Law though she was still in Angola during the war and would mumble about the darkies coming to get them.

I’ve begun to wonder if racism is a genetic trait of labs. Molly’s replacement was a black lab I named Toby, because at the time, my youngest couldn’t pronounce “Barack.”

Toby didn’t like Mexicans, which is a hard situation to deal with when you live in El Paso, Texas, the northern suburb of Cuidad Juarez and a dead ringer for Afghanistan.

If you’ve been to both places, you understand exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, just imagine the world’s worst summer camp and add in brown people trying to kill you. Embrace the suck, my friend.

photo4My current lab seems to be more sexist than anything else. He doesn’t listen too well to anyone with a penis, but I’m OK with that. Maybe Zeus is chivalrous because he is awful friendly with the pizza delivery girl. Or maybe it was the pizza. Either way, as long as a female Domino’s delivery driver doesn’t try to burglarize my house, I think I’m set.

Zeus has one weird habit I’ve tried unsuccessfully so far to break him of, and it’s somewhat related to a bad habit of my own.

When I’m working outside, which is a big chunk of the day, I see no sense in leaving tracks through the house just to make number one. When I’m sweat soaked, mud caked, and poop splattered, I consider it a thoughtful gesture to my wife’s housekeeping efforts, and additional years tacked onto a happy marriage, to limit the number of trips across my wife’s sparkly clean floor. Therefore, I frequently tinkle outside.

Zeus must spend every waking moment waiting for me to pee because I have seen him nearly knock the screen door off its hinges running toward where I am relieving myself to pee on the same spot.

The first few times, I thought it was humorous, until it dawned on me that it might be some sort of dominance move. I can’t let that happen. The next thing I know, I come home to find him sitting in my recliner with the TV remote in one paw, chomping on one of my cigars, and smacking my wife on the ass when she brings him a sandwich. That’s my job, God damn it.

Now, as a matter of policy, I pee on Zeus’ head whenever he pulls that crap. Which is pretty much every time I pee outside.

Believe it or not, when I did a decade of hard time in San Diego, I used this process in reverse to house-train a particularly recalcitrant dog, whose name I can’t remember anymore.

We had very short fences in that neighborhood, so I’m sure the neighbors were puzzled seeing me pee in the back yard with my dog on a leash. They probably thought I was either blind, suffering from early-onset dementia, or both.

San DiegoDespite living firmly within city limits, we had our share of predatory animals. There were certain areas of town, specifically Tecolte Canyon and any of the hoity-toity areas that begin with the word “Rancho,” where people habitually took their neighborhood strolls armed with walking sticks or actual clubs to fend off aggressive coyotes when walking their dogs. These were areas of town where you literally could not have an outdoor cat because they were mysteriously turned into coyote turds with little collars reading “Mr. Whiskers.”

God forbid the inmates of the California Republic be allowed to carry a firearm to protect themselves and their property. It’s one of the few areas where Ronald Reagan can be faulted, but in his defense, those laws were aimed directly at the Black Panthers wandering around in public openly displaying firearms to intimidate the few white people still living in Oakland.

On a side note, any neighborhood in San Diego County containing the word “Rancho” is way out of this Portagee’s price range, and very likely yours, too. When I escaped California, the median house price was $460,000. Look up what “median” means, if you want to have a mild heart attack.

Over in my lower-middle class neck of the woods, we had our own wildlife problems. Not only were our fences short, but they were rickety and full of gaps from benign neglect, mostly of landlords. As a result, all manner of furry little critters transited across property lines at will. It was good practice for living in the Southwest.

Try as we might to prevent it, my poor dog Molly would tangle with a skunk about twice a year. I admired her instincts, but hated the aftermath.

Through trial and error, my wife figured out the best de-skunking method was a bath in baking soda and Dawn dish washing soap. It turned my normally Chestnut brown lab into an ash blonde. After the first three or four times, I began to suspect Molly was intentionally provoking the skunks, so she could have a spa day at home. Had Molly just asked, we could have skipped that whole part with the skunk and moved right into the cut and color.

Another nuisance animal in no short supply were opossums. I don’t know if there are different types of opossums or if the ones in San Diego were all exposed to radiation from the San Onofre nuclear plant up the road, but these suckers were the biggest opossums I have ever seen. They were the size of pygmy goats.

One summer night, while sitting on the back patio in the dark in my overstuffed, high-back leather chair with a pipe in one hand and my third four-finger Scotch in the other, my contemplation of the likelihood of being struck by a meteorite was broken when Molly hauled ass into the darkness at the fence line growling.

Even though I’m a friendly and amenable drunk, my default reaction to march toward the sound of gunfire took over, and I plunged into the darkness right behind the dog.

About all I could make out at first was what I presumed was my dog lunging and retreating in a circle around something in the darkness. Not desiring a vet bill I probably couldn’t afford, I grabbed the first piece of what I thought was Molly that I could, fully expecting to be sprayed by a skunk along with her or have some possibly rabies-ridden animal take advantage of the situation and bite the every-loving shit out of me.

I had “Drunk’s Luck” with me and managed to grab a handful of mostly collar and relatively little Molly. By this time, my wife and her girlfriend Sarah had heard the commotion from inside the house, where they were doing whatever it is women do when their men aren’t in the room, and ran outside with my Mag-Lite, by far, the best combination impact weapon and illumination tool ever devised.

Ask an old-school cop how many people he’s hit with a flashlight versus how many with a baton, and some of you “progressive” types will be absolutely appalled.

When the piss-poor beam illuminated the area Molly was lunging toward, we discovered a motionless opossum sprawled out on its back, feet sticking straight up and tongue lolling out of its mouth.

2possum“Will you look at that,” I said, to Mrs. Cunha. “It didn’t take but about five seconds for Molly to kill that thing.”

“I don’t see any blood,” countered Mrs. Cunha, as she swept the beam around the prostrate marsupial. “Are you sure it’s dead.”

“Of course, it’s dead. Look at it,” I snapped.

Mrs. Cunha may not be educated, but she’s a really smart gal.

“Figure out how you want to kill it, and I’ll bring out what you need,” Mrs. Cunha said, over her shoulder as she and Sarah dragged Molly into the house.

I wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of discharging a firearm late at night in a residential neighborhood. Not so much because I am a thoughtful neighbor, but because jail sucks and there is always that one snitch in the crowd. Thanks for leading the charge in the pussification of American men, California.

I didn’t have a lot of experience dispatching small animals at that point in my life, but I had once had necessity to beat an opossum to death with a shovel and knew that it was entirely more effort than I wanted to commit to this particular project. Using said shovel as a pogostick across the back of the opossum’s neck would be courting a drunken fall to the ground and a possible trip to the ER for a head injury. And we all know how fall-down drunks fare in Emergency Rooms.

Alternating between puffs of a delicious stove-cured Virginia flake and sips of my favorite single-malt (I took them with me to rescue the dog, of course), I pondered my dilemma. Shooting was too noisy. Stabbing didn’t offer enough standoff distance. Decapitating would leave a mess all over. I was running out of options fast. It didn’t help that the little critter was beginning to stir. I stumbled to the back door, deposited my drink and pipe on a nearby end table, and call for Mrs. Cunha to bring my bat before returning to stand guard over Molly’s captive.

I was watching the opossum regain its feet and sway its head back into consciousness when I heard the back door slide open. Without looking, I extended my hand behind me. What was thrust into my hand was most definitely not a Louisville Slugger.

Sarah had beat my wife outside by a couple of steps and thrust a can of pepper spray from her purse into my hand. Well, technically, it was bear repellent because people-appropriate concentrations of oleoresin capsicum were, and probably still are, illegal and unavailable for purchase in California.

Are you starting to notice a pattern of reasons as to why I was overjoyed to leave California? Don’t fret. The state is just a glad to be rid of me.

The idea flashed in my mind that a two-stage, incapacitate/dispatch approach was preferable to a drunk chasing an opossum around in the dark with a baseball bat. Slightly less comical, but still preferable.

Pepper SprayI shook up the contents and took the stance, just as I’d been taught how to do and practiced dozens of times over the years. As I took a bead on the little beastie, we made eye contact. He was suspicious. I could tell because his eyes narrowed, daring me to do my worst.

Not one to let a challenge go unanswered, I thumbed the triggering lever and let loose a solid stream of beautiful chemical irritant that nailed the little bastard right between the eyes. Both girls cheered, clapped, and bounced up and down as I hosed him down with bear spray.

I’ve talked to many a cop who had little to no faith in the efficacy of pepper spray and, having never seen it fail, attributed their opinions to situations that were statistical outliers. One-off situations each had experienced. Sort of like the old joke that begins, “Build a thousand bridges. Do you call you Carlos the Bridge Builder?”

Because of this experience, I no longer include chemical agents in my “bag of tricks.” If I can’t handle a problem with my bare hands, I’m gonna hit it with electricity, an impact weapon, or a projectile.

Have you ever seen a dog snapping at the water stream from a garden hose? That’s exactly what this opossum did until he got bored and decided to go home. I dumped the entire remaining can of that pepper spray into the side of that opossum’s face as he waddled toward the hole in the fence through which he entered and disappeared into the neighbor’s yard.

The three of us stood there with our jaws slack as the scent of propylene glycol wafted in the air. Was this the kind of reaction we could expect from a bear? What sort of false hope are the pepper spray people peddling? I’m pretty sure a bear could have pushed through the experience and eaten us for a late-night snack, if he wanted to. It sure didn’t seem to bother the opossum.


16 thoughts on “Possum Patrol

  1. […] Last week’s headline blared “Men videotaped placing Confederate flag on church doorstep.” Two unknown men were captured on surveillance video placing a Confederate flag on the doorstep of Ebenezer Baptist Church, at one time headed by Martin Luther King, in Atlanta, Georgia. From the size of the font used, the story placement on the front page, and the number of exclamation points at the end, this surely had to be the most important news story of my lifetime, and quite possibly since the crucifixion of Jesus. […]


  2. “These were areas of town where you literally could not have an outdoor cat because they were mysteriously turned into coyote turds with little collars reading “Mr. Whiskers.”

    Registering a 10 on the laugh-o-meter. I’m telling my sister. She will be amused.

    Thanks! I needed that.


  3. An excellent read. As a dog person I have had ALL those dogs including my racist Lola, a 3 year old Boxer, born in my house, never been mistreated by anyone but has decided blacks are her enemies. I live in a county outside of Atlanta so every time she rides to town with my husband she normally losses what little mind she has more than once. We have her brother Ernie who has no prejudices at all. Go figure. I truly enjoyed this story but was pulling for the possum. I can’t help it as my siblings and I raised a baby possum my dad found on the flight line, must have dropped off mom. Raised that possum until big enough to take care of herself, then released her near a farmhouse with a pond. I always figured she found her way to that farmhouse looking for people to feed her and they probably killed her. I was a bit dramatic as a teen. Anyhow I really enjoyed this.


    • Somebody told me recently that since dogs only see in shades of gray, they don’t see black people as well. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I’m not a scientist.
      In a way, the possum did win; he got away without any permanent damage.
      Thanks for stopping by and come back anytime.


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