by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
Bang! Crash! Another coconut crashed to the ground in our backyard. We had about thirty coconut palm trees in the backyard of our house in Costa Rica and everyone was heavy with nuts in varying degrees of ripeness. A bird, an iguana, or a raccoon could dislodge one and it would hit the ground, bounce and roll away. We were worried about us and also about our little dog Sherman. If one hit him, it would have been all over. Our gardener said he could get a couple of men over to cut all the nuts off the tree and we agreed.
The day the men showed up, a small group of children gathered on our back porch to watch as the men would grab the tree, leap up and by grabbing the tree higher up would scale the thirty to forty foot trees. At the top they would swing their machetes and the heavy nuts would fall. After watching them work on a few trees, I went in doors to enjoy the air conditioner.
“Lady, Lady, Come out here!” the men called from the back.
Not knowing what was going on, I ran. There by a tree, both men and the gaggle of children stood pointing. I rushed over to see what it was and saw what I thought was a little rat clinging on the tree. The tiny animal was so young that the eyes had not opened yet and the fur was very sparse. The poor thing was shaking and I slowly took it’s small feet off the tree and held it in my hands. Everyone was jabbering at once and I finally heard one of the men say, “It’s a possum. Do you want me to kill it?”
KILL IT! I didn’t know what it was but I didn’t want it dead. I don’t like rats but if it had been one, I would still have tried to save it. Now that I had it, I would need to find out how to care for it. The closest vet was in Jaco, about ten miles away. I placed the little creature in a shoe box on a towel and drove into town. The vet was surprised at my little creature but handed me a bottle of powdered milk. He said “Probably won’t live but try this.” Along with the milk, he found a baby bottle that looked like a child’s toy.
Armed with the milk, bottle and nothing else, I headed home. In the bedroom, I pulled out the middle drawer of the nightstand and lined it with a towel. I moved a gooseneck lamp over to the edge so the light and heat would shine on the possum. Knowing that the average temperature in Costa Rica at night is still above 80 degrees, I didn’t think he would get cold. I set the alarm for two hours and began a week of waking every two hours to try and feed my little orphan. Since possums are marsupials, they don’t latch onto a teat and suck, they lick the mother’s milk from a patch in her pocket. I found that if I cut the tip of the needle, I could rub the milk onto his mouth and he could lick it in.
Slowly, he thrived. After three days, his little eyes opened. His fur began to grow and he decided we were his parents. Ted carried him around in his shirt pocket and even Sherman, the dog found him interesting. The local people would knock on the door to see the little possum.
We were have visitors and were traveling around Costa Rica and sometimes had to stay in motels. We always found places that would take dogs and I found no reason to announce we would be traveling with a possum. Putting him in a cat carry cage, I would put the cage somewhere in a closet or under the bed when we went out. I didn’t want a maid to find the little guy and freak out.
Slowly Pogo grew. We started feeding him canned cat food and he loved it. He also loved to climb up a plastic laundry basket. I thought he should learn to climb a tree and Ted and I found a tree limb and dragged it home. I put Pogo on the tree and he ran to the floor as fast as he could. Clearly he didn’t like the tree. I then thought maybe it was because it was a dead tree so we drove to a nursery and bought a small living tree. Pogo hated it as much as the dead one.
Ted found several large cardboard boxes and created a large habitat with sticks and openings so he could move from one to another and get exercise. He was out in our living room several hours a day and as he grew, Sherman was beginning to play with him. It was apparent that Pogo was a house possum.
Our story did not have a happy ending.
Opossums are singular animals and only live with others during child raising. Neither one of us could tell whether he was male or female but knew that he would get too big for us to keep.
Someone told us a German family owned a resort and had a zoo for the guests. I drove the few miles to find the resort and meet the owners. They did have a lovely place and I explained that Pogo did not like outside and loved being carried around in a belly pack or pocket. They assured me that he would never get out and the young daughter would take good care of him.
Ted and I drove over a few days later and gave our little creature to them. We left, feeling a bit empty and could only rely on the assurances. About two weeks later we stopped to see how Pogo was doing. The owner came out to tell us that they had taken the cage outside and somehow Pogo had escaped. They had never found him or any sign of him.
We turned around and drove home with tears in our eyes. It is hard to explain how much that little strange creature had penetrated our lives and how much of us we gave to him but his loss was enormous.