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Are opossums really that gentle?

July 12, 2007

THOUGH they may be, according to your article ["Opossums: Your Garden's Evening Clean-up Crew," June 28], "one of the gentlest animals out there," opossums are extremely frightening at 3:45 a.m. when they have sneaked into your house through a cat door and wake you up. This happened to me about two weeks ago. You may not approve of what happened next. I jumped out of bed, got a broom, chased the critter around my house under furniture for about 35 minutes before I cornered it. He/she bared its teeth and hissed. Into survival mode I picked him up by the tail, held him at arm's length and threw him out the door.

The result of the opossum's nocturnal intrusion now means my poor kitty has an 8 p.m. curfew, just before dark, when I close the cat door to deter the opossum's entry. I suppose the acquired taste of pet food comes from their nocturnal visits through our cat doors.

JOAN ANGLIN

Los Angeles

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I suppose there was a time when I thought these gentle little creatures were ugly, but now I find them charming and cute. My husband and I have enjoyed their frequent nighttime visits to our patio for years, and we've occasionally been delighted to see a mother opossum with babies riding on her back. I've never seen a snail in my garden, other than an occasional empty shell, nor have I ever seen any damage done by opossums. I appreciate them even more since recently watching a half-grown opossum dart into the shadows and emerge with a large roof rat (a bane of my backyard tomatoes), which he happily carried away for a late-night snack. I hope these beneficial animals will always visit my garden.

CAROLINE ANDREWS

Fullerton

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IN the context of gardens, the story is generally accurate. However, the discussion of opossums' diet did not mention the fact that opossums will eat, in addition to carrion, anything they can catch, including rats, mice, frogs and even poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes.

In the 1980s, while living in Concord, Calif., we were awakened late one rainy winter night to pandemonium in our small chicken coop, which housed perhaps 10 Rhode Island Red hens. I rushed to the coop only to find two large opossums "feeding" on several hens that were frozen with fear. Ultimately, one or two hens had been killed and several others had been severely injured, which required immediate dispatch. While opossums are usually quite shy and docile, those two put up a ferocious fight. Needless to say, those two opossums never again had chicken dinner.

D. SEMAK

San Clemente

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THANK you for your very thorough and accurate story on opossums in The Times. As a longtime volunteer with the California Wildlife Center, a licensed rehabilitation facility in Malibu Canyon, I have spent many hours over the years either caring for injured or orphaned opossums as well as educating members of the public about these important creatures. Your article went a long way toward setting the record straight. I hope it will make a positive impression on gardeners and others in the community.

MIKE LASKAVY

Oak Park

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