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Walter Scott: Playing possum is effective

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Drakesville, Iowa.

Columnist Walter Scott

Billie, the standard poodle, has his last call around 9 o'clock every evening. He goes out and does what he needs to do and also checks around the yard to make sure there are no intruders.

He was on the porch on the north side of the house when he started barking. He never barks unless something serious is happening. His idea of something serious and my idea are not always the same.

When he continued to bark, I decided I had better go check it out. I thought it was probably a deer in his yard and my walking around to that side of the house would scare it off.

When I got near him, Billie tried to keep his body between me and the porch railing. He was protecting me from whatever was in the darkness below.

I could see nothing, but I could tell, Billie was not kidding. There was definitely something dangerous down there. I blocked his exit to the porch while my wife got me a flashlight.


I did not want Billie to run around the house and start a fight with the unknown creature. I was not so much worried about him losing a fight since we rarely have bears or mountain lions around here, but even winning a fight with a skunk is not a good thing.

Back at the north side of the porch, Billie started up his aggressive barking while I shined the light in the direction he was looking. Two beady eyes of a grinning opossum looked up at us. I grabbed Billie’s collar just as he was turning to make a run for the yard in full attack mode.

A few years ago, faced with the same situation, I would have let the dog go. I thought opossums were worthless little scavengers. I have since learned opossums eat a lot of wood ticks. Anything that will help get rid of ticks is a friend of mine. I took Billie back inside.

With intentions of chasing the opossum back to the timber, I went to the garage to get my boots and coat. Jag, the terrier, who had been sleeping in the garage, was wide awake from the commotion outside. When I opened the door to leave, he darted out ahead of me before I could stop him.

He ran around the north side of the house with me in hot pursuit yelling as I went. Almost instantly, he spotted the opossum and attacked it. He grabbed it by the neck and shook it vigorously. The unfortunate animal went limp and Jag dropped it.

I felt bad for the opossum, but Jag was doing what he and his ancestors were bred to do. For hundreds of years, terriers have been raised to kill varmints.

I picked up the limp body and placed it in the back of the Ranger so I could dispose of it properly in the morning. If left in the yard, either Jag or Billie would have eaten it for breakfast the next morning, which is not a healthy way to start the day.

The next morning when I let the dogs out, I glanced in the back of the Ranger. The opossum was gone. My little tick eating scavenger friend was “playing possum” when Jag was intent on killing him. It did save his life by convincing the dog to leave him alone by pretending to be dead.


Read more from Walter Scott .

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