All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at www.blogtalkradio.com/petplace; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dog Barks at Opossum on Fence

Dear  Marie:
At about the same time every night, my dog starts barking wildly at something that crawls across my fence.  I’m not exactly sure what it is and I am worried about diseases it may carry and pass along to my dog.  This thing is about the size of a cat; but looks like a giant rat.  At the very least, it is creating a huge nuisance when it makes my dog bark and I am concerned that the neighbors will complain.  How can I get rid of this animal?

Mai,
Garden Grove

Dear Mai:
Your nightly visitor is an opossum, not a rat.  Opossums are marsupials, (like kangaroos) and they live in every city of Orange County.  They are harmless little creatures and are actually quite beneficial to have as neighbors.  They keep our gardens free of snails, slugs, and other soft-bodied pests that do damage to vegetation.  Here in Orange County, opossums are rather healthy and have a very low likelihood of carrying or spreading diseases to pets or people.  Opossums have also been known to kill mice and rats—animals that DO carry diseases and create problems for human populations. 

Opossums serve as nature’s clean-up crew and go about their business during the wee hours of the morning when most of us are sound asleep.  Complaints regarding opossums arise from situations exactly like yours.  Your dog is outside at night and therefore is easily awakened by other animals.   He does what comes naturally when he sees a small animal in his yard...he barks!

There are a number of very simple remedies to this problem.  The first, and the easiest, is to let your dog sleep in the house with you.  That’s what dogs prefer and it is really the best thing for your owner/pet relationship.  After all, pets are supposed to be our companions.  You wouldn’t make your best human friend sleep out in the back yard!   If you’ve never allowed your dog this special treatment before and you have reservations about his behavior, try it anyway.  It will take a little patience, adjustment, and getting used to; but in time, everything will work out.

If you absolutely insist that your dog can’t be in the house, at least put him in the garage at night.  He’ll need a soft, warm bed in a corner of the garage farthest away from your back yard.  Chances are, he’ll be so comfy and insulated in that location, that he won’t notice when the opossum makes his nightly pass across the fence.

In addition to bringing your dog in at night, there are some environmental modifications that you can try on your yard.  First, cut back any tree or shrub branches that extend to the top of your fence.  Opossums use these as ladders to navigate up and down.  You can also place “road blocks” at various points along your fence line.  Try fastening (with brackets) fence bricks, wood blocks, or metal strips (depending on the depth of your fence) perpendicular to the top of the fence, at ten to twenty foot intervals.  This creates a difficult walking path that an opossum will not like.  He’ll find another “road” to take elsewhere.

Finally, make sure you do not have any food sources in your yard that may be serving as an attractant, such as ripened or fallen fruit, pet food left in bowls outside, trash stored in plastic bags or open containers, etc. 

If you follow this advice, the nuisance you are currently experiencing will be eliminated.

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