Herb-1

Recently, Charlie trapped a baby opossum in the garage. We had a bit of a standoff. 

The dog was barking. Dogs bark, that’s not new, but Charlie, the little terrier, dachshund, fill-in-the-rest mix was barking in a way that indicated more than the usual disparate, nonspecific, someone-is-walking-by-with another-dog bark. This bark was higher pitched and more dramatic.

Barking is the sonic wallpaper of both city and country life. It can be musical or not, not if it’s your dog, it’s 3 in the morning and you are torn between wanting to yell at the dog and waking up the neighborhood or just falling back asleep and letting your barking dog do it for you.

At 3 a.m., a barking dog sounds as if it’s wearing a microphone turned up to high. The volume is operatic but the story line is not new. The cutest dog in the world is not cute when it turns peaceful sleepers into wild-eyed insomniacs.

Fortunately it was midafternoon when Charlie was barking and sprinting in and out of the garage. I had a feeling something was there that didn’t live there, probably didn’t want to be there, but was trapped there.

As I walked to the garage, the scene from the end of “Casablanca” went through my head: “Round up the usual suspects.” The "usual suspects” included a stray cat, another dog or my least favorite suspect, something in the rat family.

Charlie was squatting in the corner behind the bench press bar. Even with the light on, I couldn’t see what was there, where the two walls met because it was blocked by Charlie’s oversized head, which looked as if it belonged on a bull mastiff rather than a dog with legs like a centipede.

I turned on my phone light, brushed Charlie aside and leaned in closer to take a look.

I was glad the usual suspect wasn’t some sort of jumping spider, the sort that appears in dreams when you walk into the house where you used to live, now deserted except for this hairy nightmare.

This thing was small, white and had a pointy nose. Rat would have been my first call except it was daytime and rats usually don’t appear until dusk, when you’re eating outside and one runs across the roof while you’re in the middle of a bite of chard and corn gratin.

White is not a rat color, at least around here, unless it’s an albino and then you really have problems. Normally, you’d almost give anything for a white rat because a white rat is almost cute. This was something else — an opossum, a baby opossum.

Charlie had a problem and, by extension, so did Charlie’s owners. Although it was midafternoon, soon it would be night and night would give way to early morning and unless something changed, there were no indications that Charlie would give up or stop barking. Terriers don’t have a give-up bone in their bodies.

Give up or back down because like many dogs of his type, Charlie would as soon try his luck against a Great Dane, as gulp down a snack from the bowl at the vet’s office.

However, this opossum was no Great Dane, it was no bigger than my fist. Charlie would fight a Great Dane but the baby opossum had him checking to see if his life insurance was current.

Something had to change but I wasn’t sure something would because every time Charlie drew close, the little critter bared his teeth and made a sound whose meaning was unmistakable: “I dare you.”

Given that we were in a standoff and the opossum was cute, I wondered if we could make it into a pet. I typed “Make a wild opossum into a pet,” into YouTube and, of course, there was a video of a guy with a beard who had a bunch of baby opossums climbing all over him making you think, “I could do that,” but deep down you knew you couldn’t and the first time one crawled on your neck, it would bite you so deep that modern medicine couldn’t help you.

It’s one thing to grow tomatoes in pots and another to tame an “it won’t be cute forever" opossum.

“I think we should trap it and take it somewhere where it has a chance to live,” said Alicia, Thomas’ girlfriend who grew up on a horse farm and has a long history of dealing sensibly and nonhysterically with critters.

As Bruce Springsteen says about his wife, Patti Scialfa, “sometimes the best man for a job is a woman“ and, with Alicia leading the charge, we nudged the opossum into Charlie’s empty dog crate, put it in the back of Thomas’ truck and transported it to some downed trees and heavy bushes off the bike path close to the skate park. I’m sure we violated several wildlife laws but at least we didn't haul it over the state line doing it.

Charlie stopped barking, but it wasn’t night yet. People weren’t asleep, sleeping the worried sleep of the spring of 2020. This is no time to wake anybody up.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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