This has not been my best day ever. Most of what made the bad day bad I am not going to go into, but this story (with beasties, of course) was just the WTF icing on an OH GOD STAB ME IN THE BRAIN WITH A SHRIMP FORK sort of day.
It was time to let Dog out for her evening constitutional, which sounds nicer than “out to shit,” so that’s what I say, and as usual there is a routine before I do so. I take one of the big flashlights I have lying about the house – ostensibly part of the hurricane kit, they get used all the time; they are enormous plastic boat flashlights that take those big square batteries with springs on top, are waterproof, and if left to float, will float so that the light points up. Useful. I take the gigantic Boat Light out and I shine it along the perimeter of the back yard fence, because I have to check for prey.
Dog likes to chase, and to catch, and things that squeak. She hasn’t got much of a prey drive; she’s content with a fruitless chase when it comes to squirrels and cats, but if there is a possum outside, may the Lady of Canis Familiaris help us all, because Dog will have that possum, and there is nothing anybody can say or do about it.
I checked along the usual hiding places for possums, and finding none, released Dog. I ran back inside and grabbed my phone as I had a message to reply to. I came outside, took a seat, and then Dog hit the fence.
I mean this literally; Dog is nine going on ten, but she is a Boxer and her rear assembly is made of rubber and springs. She can easily leap high enough to nip a slow-moving marsupial off the top of a six-foot-tall privacy fence. She’s done it more times than I can count, at this point, which is why I check for the fucking possums.
It was in the one place I hadn’t checked, an oak tree tucked into the corner (next to a grapefruit tree behind it, which I think is why the stupid animals are always risking life and limb out here), very dark, covered with low-hanging branches. Perfect for a possum to hide in. But there is no hiding from Dog on a hunt.
She snagged the animal and brought it down, while I shouted ineffectually for her to BACK, OFF, LEAVE IT, KURAT, YOU GO DEAF WHEN THERE ARE POSSUMS, I SAID LEAVE IT, LISTEN TO ME. She is good at “leave it” in most circumstances, but live prey is something we really can’t practice with, so it’s more a question of wrestling the hairy beast off the other hairy beast and then towing her back indoors while she drools possum hair, and possibly blood, and definitely gobs of drool, all while yearning and pulling and aching to get back to that horrific possum and kill it dead.
Which is what happened – the chomp and the wrestle – she doesn’t seem to try to tear them open but she chews on them, going for the spine I suppose, and this dog’s not inconsiderable jaws can easily crack open a beef bone to get to the delicious marrow inside. Possum doesn’t stand much of a chance, so I have to get to her before she gets it open.
This time, somehow, the commands and instincts got mixed, and she lifted the thing and tore off away from me, possum hanging limply from her mouth, to maul it somewhere that I wasn’t shouting. I caught up with Dog, and then caught hold of Dog, and – still with that big yellow boat flashlight in my hand- examined the victim. It lay limp, playing dead as possums do, shellacked with dog-slobber, and bleeding lightly in one or two places.
Dog whined and protested but I frogmarched her back to the house, praising her as we went for a good leave it. (One takes the training opportunity where one can get it.)
Thus: it’s about 10:30 at night, I have a possibly injured possum bang in the center of my back yard, and I have to get it the hell out of there before Dog goes out in the morning. If it can’t move, she’ll finish it off; if she has finished it off, then there’s carrion to deal with and I would rather avoid all of that.
Anxiety is a funny thing. It means that I am often irrationally afraid of things that cannot harm me. Nobody ever died from awkwardness, though you wouldn’t know it, to spend a day inside my head. And yet, when it comes to things that could be hazardous, I have no problems whatsoever.
The solution, clearly, was to scoop the possum up with my rusty old shovel, then tip it over the back fence into the field. Yes. Pick up an injured, frightened, wild animal on a shovel, carry it forty feet, and pitch it over a fence. Phone calls are scary. That is not. That is just a stupid thing I have to do, and besides, they have a remarkably low rabies occurrence.
I just ain’t right, is what.
So off I go, trying to get the shovel under the possum, without touching it – they have rather a lot of teeth – and grumbling at it the whole time. Why are you so stupid? You are a stupid suicidal possum and if this kills you then it is not my fault. You are supposed to smell predators, and if my dog is not one for you I do not know what is. Stupid fucking marsupial. It didn’t help get the body on the shovel, but it helped me not get annoyed at the difficulty involved in getting about twelve pounds of defensive thanatosis with a lolling head onto the business end of a very old shovel.
Finally I got the damn thing on there and hoisted it up, holding the shovel so that the possum was as far away from me as possible, in case it – I don’t know – suddenly awoke from its slumber, decided it would not be having with shovel transport, and then tried to claw my face off. A full-grown possum at the end of a shovel held as far as is humanly possible from one’s delicate flesh is not light, let me tell you.
I was about ten feet away from the fence, possum in tow, when I heard it: a voice, and then another, a pair of them, male, amused. The field is pitch black. The house next door was broken into, a few months back. Ordinarily I may have been worried about that, but at the moment… at the moment? Something just snapped, inside.
I HAVE A FULL-GOD-DAMN-GROWN POSSUM ON A SHOVEL HERE AND THAT MEANS RIGHT NOW I AM NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING. I AM DUMPING IT AND YOU ARE GOING TO JUST STAY THERE IN THE SHADOWS AND NOT BOTHER ME. YOU SAW WHAT MY DOG CAN DO, YOU SAW ME CALL HER OFF. I TRAINED HER. AND I HAVE A SHOVEL. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.
I didn’t say that, but I thought it, as I wrestled the heavy shovel (having to rest it before I dropped it) up to the fence and tipped the unresponsive animal over. My chore done, I brought the shovel back to its place on my deck, and then stood there by the back door, arms crossed, glaring daggers into the darkness: Try it. Come on, try it. You stupid creepy probably laughing at me voices. Fucking try. Behind me, indoors, Dog paced and whined, wishing to get back outside and finish the job on that delicious crunchy possum.
They did not, so eventually I went inside and placed an excessively polite call to TPD’s non-emergency line, asking them to please check back there and oust anyone who shouldn’t be in the palmettos.Stupidly polite, because my bravery had, of course, upped and fled when I swapped shovel for phone.
“Ma’am, it’s free to call, and it’s free to send us out there, so don’t you worry.”
“I just don’t want to waste y’all’s time, is all.”
“This is what we do, it’s okay.”
They popped by, checked back there, told me everything was clear. I asked if there would be any way to maybe get some lights back there, and the cop said he’d look into it. Thus proving my long-held police theory: cops are only good when I summon them. If it’s them coming to me, I puff up with defensive Alinsky stubbornness like a radical blowfish.
Tomorrow, or rather Monday: call the city and raise a stink about getting some sodding light back there. I dislike big dark open spaces when people keep getting burgled and there are creepy voices. And maybe while they’re at it they can demolish that godforsaken grapefruit tree so the Stupid Suicidal Possums stay the hell away.
In the meantime, I need to figure out what the hell training tool works for me to teach my noble idiot Dog how to release the goddamn prey when I tell her to.