A Visitor

This morning, Luna gets me out of bed with animated barking at the front door.  It is  a frenzied canine monologue that means, “Someone’s out there!”, but not, “There’s a strange person at the door”.  Through the sidelight window next to the front door, I  see a long-legged rust colored dog.  “Dammit”, I mutter, “Mrs. W. has to start keeping her dogs in her own yard”.  The neighbor’s small dogs frequently escape their fencing and come to my property, driving Luna and Buster to barking, whining and pawing at the windows.  It pisses me off.

The animal is on the asphalt driveway, sniffing at a coil of hose I had pulled out of the garage yesterday.  He regards the three of us — me and barking dogs, one of whom seemed to have lost her senses — with a cool stare. Obviously not one of the nervous neighbor dogs, who let out ear-splitting staccato yips and scamper off.  The dog version of Ding Dong Ditch.  This guy, however, doesn’t seem to care that there is a large prick-eared dog having hysterics on the other side of a piece of glass.

By now, Buster is wagging his wiggly pit bull tail and barking occasionally, just to keep up with his big sister in the vocal department.  He probably would try to make friends with the fox if they came face to face.  Luna’s the protective German shepherd who would drive intruders away.  At least that’s how I plot out their characters in my head…

Sharp nose, dark eyes and bushy tail…ah, it’s a Red Fox.  This is the first one I’ve seen in eight years on this property.  I’ve heard stories of sightings, but they hunt at dawn and twilight.  I’m rarely up and never outside at dawn; in the twilight hours, the dogs are often  in the securely fenced backyard, their scent making a fox skirt the area.  Foxes need to be wary of larger animals as they are frequently preyed upon by coyotes, which also populate my suburban environs.  And why pick a fight with a dog when there are so many smaller animals the fox can easily catch and eat — squirrels, birds, snakes, lizards?   They didn’t come up with the term “sly as a fox” for no reason whatever.

A Red Fox. Photo is from the website of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

My foxy friend trots nonchalantly away from the hose and into the front yard.  Dogs move accordingly, tails wagging and barking less frantically as they jump on my disheveled bed searching for the visitor. They can smell him but the fox has vanished from sight. Too late, I go to the dining room window to see if I can watch him crossing the yard and heading into the woods across the street.  But, he’s already gone.

Luna has lost interest in whatever might be outside the house and is indicating that it’s time for breakfast.  Cats eat first, so she has an interest in getting me started on my morning duties.  I dish out a couple of cans of Wellness turkey for the cats, fill the dogs’ bowls with kibble and some raw-diet chicken.  Everybody seems satisfied with their meal.  Everyone’s been fed.  I can make a cup of tea and work the two crossword puzzles in the StarTribune.  Puzzles complete, I stand at the window hoping the fox will return.  He added spice to this fine September morning.

Luna vs. The Opossum

The whining in the backyard was unusual.  That particular, distinctive sound means that Luna has trapped a cat under the couch or in the cat tree and wants it to continue playing with her.  It was disconcerting to hear the whimpering in the yard.  Since I am a vigilant guard and the cats can’t escape, I knew there was another critter out there with my dog.

Luna wouldn’t come to my increasingly firm calls, so I marched over to one of the hanging bird feeders, grabbed her by the collar and dragged her back to the house — literally, as she was unwilling to leave the small, curled animal that lay there.  iPhone’s flashlight app on, I revisited the scene and found an opossum, curled up and breathing heavily.

Opossums are odd little creatures, with sharply pointed, ghostly faces.  If they aren’t pretending to be dead, they have a beady little stare.  Their short legs make them seem to glide silently along the ground.  I’ve only seen a couple of them in my yard in the seven years I’ve been here, but there could be many living secret lives in the brush and hedges.  I imagine them, silently watching us go about our business, waiting for a chance to come nibble on fallen bird seed.

I love wildlife as long as I don’t have to encounter it personally, and I wasn’t sure what to do.  Is the phrase ‘playing possum’ based on reality or is it a myth?  At any rate, I didn’t want to handle the animal whether it was injured, safe, sleeping, whatever.  A bird who has stunned itself after crashing into the sunroom window, I will pick up.  But something with teeth, no.  Even if it is a comatose possum.   So left it alone, I did.

This morning the little animal was gone. No trail of blood, no poor mangled corpse left behind by a predatory bird.  He must have been feigning sleep for me, beating it as soon as the coast was clear.

I did some quick research on opossums this morning.  It seems that they don’t play dead to fool a predator, so much as they are paralyzed by fear and thus appear to be dead.  It’s tough being a possum.

Playing Possum: it’s true!  Click here: Playing Possum

And it’s tough being my dog when you’ve messed with an opossum.   To avoid a possible flea outbreak, Luna was dosed with Advantix and we’ll be going to the vet this afternoon for a check up.  Her rabies vaccine is up-to-date, and I don’t know if that is much of a concern with possums, but I’m not taking a chance of having a sick dog.