Possums: A threat?

Possums — those nocturnal marsupials with long thick tails that like to hang out in trees — have been seen out in the daylight recently, drawing concern from residents across town.

Although wildlife experts describe the animal as non-threatening and resistant to rabies, the police department has responded to several calls this past week and, in at least one case, shot and killed the animal.

“It really depends on circumstance,” said Captain Jeff Kreitz. “If the animal is out during the day, it’s not necessarily sick, but when we get a call about a sick animal the protocol is that an officer is sent out in the field to make a determination.

“The officer has to verify if the animal is indeed sick or injured before the animal is dispatched,” he added. “Some signs are forming at the mouth, shaking and twitching, or general erratic behavior — we’re not just to dispatch an animal because it’s out in the daylight.”

The “animal related matter” calls involving possums that came in from March 4 to March 6 ranged from Crosby Court, near Ridgebury Road, to Creamery Road, near Main Street, to Branchville Elementary School, Captain Kreitz confirmed.

He didn’t say which incident involved the animal being “dispatched” by the officer.

He added that another call came in last week about a possible rabid raccoon, which was not shot.

“It’s not any higher than normal,” he said of the call volume. “Raccoons and possums are definitely the two biggest complaints we get.

“People aren’t used to seeing them during the day and so they tend to react pretty quickly.”

Peter Reid, the assistant director of Wildlife in Crisis in Weston, said residents have nothing to be concerned about when they see a possum, whether its during the day or at night.

“They rarely get rabies — marsupials are very resistant to rabies,” he said. “And that’s really the only reason they need to be shot down, if they’re a risk to public health.

“Otherwise, they’re defensive behaviors, which appear to be aggressive, are really non-threatening,” he added. “They don’t chase or attack — they’re more likely to be injured than to cause injury to anybody, including pets.”

He said that his non-profit organization, which rescues injured animals, has seen possums that were attacked by dogs and cats, but he said he has never heard of a dog or cat injured by a possum.

“The only way you or your animal can get bitten by one is by literally sticking your hand in its mouth,” he added.

Mr. Reid described a possum’s life as “fairly solitary” and said the long, cold winter is why they’ve been seen out more in the daylight in recent weeks.

“They’re always seeking shelter from the cold so they may be seen under decks or in sheds, but people have nothing to worry about,” he said. “Any display of hissing that seems aggressive is purely a defensive mechanism.

“They’re not well suited for the New England winter — they really don’t do well, especially with their tail being fully exposed,” he added. “It’s so cold and this winter has been so difficult that they’ve come out during the day when its warmer.”



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