Living with a possum: What I learned from an unwanted guest

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Sometimes you have good neighbours, and life can be good. Sometimes you don’t – but at least, hopefully, you can escape from them into your home.

But what do you do when your bad neighbour decides to move in and won’t stay away? If this neighbour happens to be furry, very agile, and not open to negotiations (not to mention, a protected species?) You try a range of approaches, and as a result, you start to learn what you are prepared to accept and what is not negotiable.

I speak from experience, as we’ve been waging a long battle again a possum (or maybe several) who have decided to settle into our house, uninvited (and definitely  not welcomed).

The first encounter

To be honest, I don’t know when he arrived – it’s all a blur now. However, sometime in the past, we became aware of a lot of scratching around in our roof space, and then within the walls. We were not happy, but we tried to be reasonable:

  • We tried luring him with juicy treats to lead him to a better place, to no avail.
  • We tried making life uncomfortable, finding where he was in the walls and sticking objects – thin strips of wood, plastic, sprays of all sorts*, even sticking holes in the plaster walls (thanks to my husband – they still remain) and inserting a camera microscope to identify him -and poke him at the same time. (Which maybe crossed the test of reasonable – but he started it!)
  • We tried closing off all possible entry points into the house, which was a good thing (a few loose tiles were replaced in the process, we blocked up chimneys and closed the smallest gaps in walls). We were limited though to doing this when we were confident the possum was out – the last thing we wanted was a possum trapped in the walls of the house (and neither would you unless you wanted to experience the most horrendous smell).

But this possum was stubborn and would dart away, only to reappear in another part of the building. He wasn’t fooled by the apple treats – he could see the wire trap box they were located in. He was determined to stay.

His antics were making the four of us – not to mention our terrier – very unhappy. Both kids would call out that they couldn’t sleep because of his scratching and we’d have to sit with them until they did manage to fall asleep. Rosie our dog would pace around, growling threateningly (although, clearly, not threatening enough, as he took no notice). We were getting angry by now. He was no longer an annoying ‘guest’ – he was a problem.

A step too far

We might have tolerated it through gritted teeth but he pushed his luck. He invited a friend to join him, and they started fighting (well, that’s what we told the kids – maybe they were doing something else), hissing and snarling all through the nights. Several nights.

That was it for my husband. He was determined now we would be rid of possum, no matter what it took. He staged a sit-in, in our attic, for a couple of months, determined to be rid of the enemy possum (for that’s what he’d become).

  • I’d go to bed, leaving my husband in the attic with only the radio (and a whining dog below) for company, for sometimes four to six hours, waiting. And then – sometimes at two, three, four in the morning, the rest of us would awake to a horrendous squealing noise, the sound of crashing metal and a triumphant ‘I’ve got him!’
  • And when he returned – as, of course, he did a few days later (or maybe it was his friend), the regime started again. The possum was disposed* of again. And as soon as that one was gone, a few days later, another would return. And so it went.

Eventually, due to persistence (and constant maintenance of our old house), we were free. No more possums. Yay!

The return

We’ve been blissfully free of uninvited animals in our home for at least six months. It was too good to last though.

Last Saturday, I heard a sound I hadn’t heard for a while. It was a scratching, hissing noise coming from behind my bed-head. I sighed, annoyed. And then I looked over to my husband, already asleep. I was the only one bothered by him. I sighed again, turned over and went to sleep. This was something that would have been unthinkable two years ago.

My kids have heard him too, and they too have just commented about it. They’ve still managed to go to sleep without any extra trouble. And our dog no longer gets up when she hears it – she lifts her head, pricks up her ears, and then flops back down. It doesn’t seem worth the effort.

What I’ve learned through our possum experience

We can get used to anything.

Well, maybe not anything, but we can learn to deal with irritations that would have previously driven us mad. Which is good to know.

Not everything can be addressed at once.

This week, we’ve got a number of activities and deadlines to work through, and we’ve needed to prioritise where we spend our energy. It’s been more important to concentrate on these, and to ensure we still get enough sleep than to deal with the hassle (and overnight staking out) of possum trapping. We’ve learned that we can ignore – or tolerate it – for a while at least. And that’s what we’ve been doing.

Tolerance, or adaptability can easily turn into laziness.

We could let it go for longer, being slightly annoyed but not enough to do anything. After all, we took a while last time to really tackle it. Meanwhile, the possum poses risks to the cleanliness and safety of our house, especially if it gets tangled and agitated, or connects with any electricity wires. And if we end up with multiple possums again … shudder.

We need to focus on the core issue

No, not the rights of possums and the need for habitats (although I might cover that another time – the problems of urbanisation and the impact to native fauna is a big issue). However, the solution is not to let them live in our house.

We could go through the same approach again, but, frankly, it was exhausting and it hasn’t worked long term. That’s because the possum has found another way in, specifically through the next door home we’re attached to. We’ve covered our bases, and our lovely neighbours, who rent next to us, have still been battling the possum plague in their home (and suffering as a result). The barriers we’ve installed between the two homes clearly aren’t working (probably because we’re not builders). It needs to be fixed properly.

This means taking it up with the landlord who rents the next door home. It means being prepared for their potential resistance to fix their property. Confrontation with people can be harder than with animals – but it needs to be done. So it’s time to step up and deal with one of a number of maintenance issues we’ve shied away from raising, because of the potential fallout. It’s time to start adulting and tackle the negotiations. Sigh.

Other people take these matters to a far greater extreme

I’d thought my husband was somewhat obsessed when I’d watch him set up camp for the night in the attic, night after night.

Then I listened to the start of an episode of This American Life, called ‘When the Beasts Come Marching in‘. When you listen to the lengths the elderly man has gone to to try and remove the woodpecker from his home (with humane, but completely ineffective, measures), I realise my husband was completely sane in comparison. Good to know (and funny to listen to)!

In summary, I’ve learned a lot through this experience. I guess it hasn’t been completely a disaster (or maybe I’m trying to put a positive spin on it). But I’ve learned them now – and Mr Possum, it’s time to find a new home. Permanently.

 

Have you ever been in a similar circumstance? Is it possible to get rid of possums for ever?

And do you have any tips for dealing with landlords or rental agents which received results? (Any advice gratefully received!)

 

 

*although (before anyone rings animal protection) we haven’t used anything that’s poisonous or in any way harmful (just annoying). We know he’s protected. We know, we know.

**Again, removed within the legal guidelines. Eekk, we stick to regulations. As a bureaucratic, I can’t let go of my need to compile, as much as I might want to. The possum was safe. Which is why he kept coming back – grrr.

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One thought on “Living with a possum: What I learned from an unwanted guest

  1. You’ve got my smiling muscles working Helen! We too have had a possum in the roof and it’s definitely a learning experience. And you’re so right that we can’t always control things the way we’d like to.

    Like

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