Sometimes a relationship with an animal begins with a bite.
An unexpected bond can be formed when blood is drawn. And if no one gets hurt, dare I say it can be kind of funny.
That’s how it all started with Bob Shimmin.
Bob and his wife live in the country with a cat called Momma-the-Cat, who lives out in the barn. Well, Bob had a Possum that he knew was raiding the cat-food bowl and hanging around the property. When he saw the Possum he'd holler at it and chase it away, but he never felt the need to exterminate it. It was live-and-let-live, with some loose boundaries surrounding the cat's turf.
Well, one day back in the winter of 2013, Bob was concerned about a big snow storm that was heading their way, and thought it wise to fluff the bedding inside the cat's house so she'd be nice and warm. So Bob went out to the cat house in the barn and when he reached in to grab the bedding, he shocked from a painful bite! He yanked his hand out and peered in to see a hissing Possum! The darn thing was sleeping in there.
He left the Possum alone and went inside to tend to his wound. The bite wasn’t serious but it was bleeding, and his worried wife urged Bob to go to the hospital and get rabies shots, despite Bob vaguely remembering Possum aren't actual carriers*). As you may know, rabies shots can be very painful, but Bob went ahead and got them anyway, just to play it safe. For Bob, all this just made the entire experience more absurd and indelible.
If you know Bob, then you’re aware of his quirky, morbid sense of humor, and understand how an encounter with a Possum would evolve into a good story and recurring theme. Bob became the Possum guy. His fondness for the possum grew and he started calling him Chester. To this day, Bob and his friends post photos and videos of various Possum on his Facebook page. And even though they're usually posted in jest, there's an underlying appreciation for Possum - an appreciation they rightfully deserve. Possum generally suffer from a pretty bad rap.
When I learned all this about Bob (a fellow photographer) I was thrilled, since I'd asked another friend if he'd consider a Possum for an animal portrait and he absolutely hated the idea. He flat out dismissed them as ugly and nothing more than roadkill.
Well, not for Bob and others like myself. Possum are really cool creatures. They’re the only native marsupial in North America; they’re one of the few animals who can feign death (play dead), giving rise to the colloquialism “playing possum”; they’re omnivores and opportunists and eat everything from fruits, grains, insects, snails, earthworms, carrion, snakes, mice, and other small animals. They also consume large numbers of ticks, thereby limiting the spread of Lyme disease - THANK YOU!; they have opposable thumbs on their hind legs; baby possum are called “joeys” and after 10 weeks living in the pouch, will climb out and on to the mothers back where they’ll Iive for another month before they head out on their own.
Possum have their rightful place in the animal kingdom and landscape. They're also one of the usual suspects for urban wildlife in cities across America, possibly being one of the first and only wild animals a city person might encounter, along side the Squirrel and Raccoon. So, more power to Possum as they adapt and find their way in a constantly changing environment, fraught with perhaps the greatest threat to their existence: the automobile. It's a rough world out there for wildlife.
* According to the Opossum Society of the United States, “Any mammal can get rabies. However, the chance of rabies in an opossum is EXTREMELY RARE. This may have something to do with the opossum’s low body temperature (94-97º F) making it difficult for the virus to survive in an opossum’s body.”
Below is a photo of Chester pilfering cat food, and a photoshopped pic Bob made from an original photo of an old guy with a possum on his back.