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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Monday, March 3, 2014

Can I Keep a Baby Opossum as a Pet?



Dear Marie,
For the past four nights, a baby opossum has been showing up by our sliding glass door to the back yard. We first noticed him when our cat was staring intently outside and flicking his tail. We wondered what had caught his attention and we were very surprised to see the baby wild animal just on the other side. The first night, we assumed it was just an isolated incident. But when it happened again the second night, we were a little amused and put out some cat food. He munched that down with gusto. Well, long story short, we put food out for him every night and we are looking forward to him coming back tonight. Here’s my question. He seems very tame and we wanted to know how difficult it is to keep an opossum as a pet. Is cat food a good diet for him? Do they adjust well to living inside a house?
Thanks,
Gwen and Robert
Garden Grove

Dear Gwen and Robert,
I am glad to hear that you reacted positively to your nightly visitor. Some people have the opposite response to urban wildlife and immediately insist on extermination. Frequently baby opossums are mistaken for roof rats, which elicits an even more drastic knee-jerk reaction.

Opossums frequent most neighborhoods. They are a wild species that has learned how to live quite successfully alongside human beings. As marsupials, the females have pouches like kangaroos, and carry their young inside these special “nurseries” until they are ready to come out and face the world. Even after opossum young leave the pouch, they still remain close to their mothers until they are capable of taking care of themselves. And this is the point I need to emphasize–baby opossums are capable of taking care of themselves and it would be wrong on many levels for you to confine it to your home - not to mention it is unlawful.

Wild animals can never be domesticated; they can only be tamed. There is a difference. A domesticated pet has thousands of years of cohabitation with humans encoded into his genes. This allows us to live with dogs, cats and other pet animals relatively safely. A wild animal, even if tame, retains all of his normal, wild animal reactions to stressful or scary situations, and this could mean that you or any visitor to your home may be injured. This would be very bad for a wild pet because should a bite occur, your illegally maintained pet would be immediately confiscated by local health officials and euthanized to determine if it has rabies, even though the likelihood of that is almost nonexistent.

I am aware that many people do keep opossums as pets and are as fond of them as they would be of any pet. However, a wild animal deserves to be free. It is their birthright. Sadly, many pet opossums spend their entire lives in small pens or cages as their owners’ busy schedules keep them from spending much quality time with their captive critters. This is no life for the inquisitive little being who has been stopping by to check out you and your cat each night.

Opossums are very intelligent. Some research has shown that they rank above dogs and cats. The baby who is visiting you has figured out that you will be providing him some yummy food. Unless you plan on doing this forever, I would suggest stopping now or he will forget how to forage for his own food and become dependent on you.

If you do plan to continue giving him a little something each night, try putting out bits of fruits and vegetables along with the cat food. But keep in mind that if your opossum friend tries to get the same treatment from your neighbors, he is NOT likely to get the welcome that you have given him and you may be putting him in danger.

Again, it’s best to watch wild animals do their own thing from a distance. They can take care of themselves best if you don’t interfere.

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