This picture was taken in September of 2016 - the first time we were aware of an opossum living on our property. It was juvenile at the time, pretty small and actually pretty cute. Over the year since we first saw this little guy, we've noticed a lot more opossum activity. It's quite a bit bigger now, and it lives under Adam's train shed - it's point of entry and exit is quite defined.
We've seen it waddling back to, and descending into, this den in the morning. It doesn't do us any harm. Opossums do not carry rabies, they eat nuisance pests such as ticks and snails (and even rodents), and they don't generally like fresh plant material - they prefer well-rotted fruit and veg. So it's likely that it feeds on any fallen fruit from our trees but unlikely that it's the leaf culprit I've been searching for (someone is eating entire leaves of my Brussels sprouts!). Opossums generally aren't interested in eating live chickens but they would probably enjoy eggs - and any eggshells that we throw into the compost (along with rotting food there as well).
So we've let it live here for over a year now. It may have had babies (we don't even know if it's a 'she'). The Virginia Opossum (the kind we have here) is our only North American marsupial. They stay in dens during the day and come out at night to feed. And herein lies our problem.
We started feeding Tasha the cat in the garage when we got Joe the dog; he was very interested in her food, so we put hers outside to keep him out of it. We've just continued that habit even though Joe has been gone for nearly a year. Lately her food has been disappearing, but we chalked that up to the neighborhood cats and dogs - there is a grey cat who likes to visit, as well as a small dog named Owen, who adores cat food. Another thing that should have tipped us off is that Tasha also has been meowing more lately, especially when she's in the garage. We didn't think much of that, because she is now deaf, and we think she 'cries' more because it's a sound she can feel. So we didn't figure either of these things was terribly curious in itself.
But, recently, there were a couple of times we actually found the opossum in the garage, about the time we'd be putting Tasha in for the night. Tom would bang around in there and it would run out, and we'd figure it just toddled away. But last night, I happened to catch the opossum sneaking in around 5 pm, and when it came time to put the cat away, it was still there, beady eyes glowing from under the little red wagon. Tom did his usual banging around, but it wouldn't leave - it just kept finding another nook to wedge itself into. It took us a half an hour and some maneuvering of paddle boards, beer crates, and telescopes to make a sort of barrier, and armed ourselves with brooms, and we finally got it out. It hissed at us, and bared sharp teeth, but luckily did not do the 'freezing' thing, because we certainly weren't going to try to pick it up. It's huge - well-fed and glossy - clearly thriving on this steady diet of cat food. It headed off into the night. Not half an hour later, it was back at the garage door trying to get in. Which is when we finally got hip to the fact that it considered this a permanent nighttime abode. (I'm not sure why the pile of dried turds didn't convince us.) We now think that it actually spends every night in our garage, eating cat food and pooping all over the place. It's a win-win situation for the opossum - free food without having to go hunting for it. A warm, dry night under the wagon. A little company in the form of a cat friend, albeit one that stays far away on her own cushion and likely is uneasy about the relationship. No one sees it go in, and no one sees it go out in the morning. It's ideal. That opossum must think it's hit the jackpot.
So, clearly we have to form some 'best practices' to reduce the problem. I mean, it's our fault it has gotten so cozy. Tasha will obviously only have food indoors (sorry, grey cat and Owen the dog), and we'll need to make sure the garage door is closed before it gets dark (we tend to leave it open because Tasha's cat pan is in there too; that might have to change though I really hope not). I have to get in the habit of closing up the garage door by 4:30 or so, and these two things should discourage the opossum. Tasha should have much more comfortable nights in there now.
Meanwhile, I think we might see if we can rig a trap right outside the opossum's underground shed entrance, and bait it with cat food, and then relocate the 'possum. First I have to find out if we are even allowed to do that here. There are certainly people whom you can hire to remove them, and they claim to do it in a humane way, but I am suspicious. I'll have to call around. We certainly don't want the animal harmed.
Have any of you had any experience with trapping and relocating opossums (or other critters)? If so, I'd love to hear about it.