Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Tender Story of a Man and his Marsupial

Speaking of Aardvarks, the one spoken of in the post below sent me this article from the Clark County, Washington Columbian:

Opossum passion - Man and his beloved pet set out to change misconceptions

This starts out good just reading the headline! Here's the story--

Friday, February 13, 2004
By BRETT OPPEGAARD, Columbian staff writer

From the beginning, the attitude was mutual: Yantzy Balzer didn't care what people thought about his love for an opossum, and the hand-sized fluff of life entrusted to him didn't care who or what was providing that love.

Cue the violins...

Delivered by neighbors in a dish towel, the sable runt at first growled at Balzer as ferociously as she could displaying her small, pointy teeth. The Orchards resident soothed this frightened baby by slipping her into his shirt pocket, where she could feel his body warmth, like being in her mother's pouch. For days, weeks, months, Balzer coddled the infant he dubbed Dartyan (pronounced dar-tan-yan),

That's because D'Artagnan is pronounced "LARCH."

pre-chewing food for her before slipping it into her mouth, letting her nuzzle around his neck, sleep in his bed.

I forgot to mention that if you are eating you should stop before you read this paragraph.

Bonded by unconditional love, Balzer felt increasingly emboldened about their special man-marsupial relationship. The 35-year-old wanted to share those experiences. So he started taking his pet with him on errands, through Clark County shopping centers and parks and along busy streets. People he encountered haven't always been pleased. He's been called a freak and a fool. He's suffered through several shouting spurts of obscenities and disapproval, but he's also found a few who were curious, a few who were willing to question their perceptions.

You know, I see a sit-com in this, sort of a cross between Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Animal Planet. Oh, and Friends.

In turn, Balzer has become a possum preacher of sorts, telling and showing that the wild animal might not be the dirty, contagion-carrying aggressor of reputation.

'Might not be...' Ringing sort of endorsement, there.

Dartyan, meanwhile, has grown to the size of a household cat. On a recent morning, she still was asleep inside a kidney-shaped denim purse when Balzer grabbed the bag from the back of his living room couch and began his day.

Per routine, Balzer and roommate Kevin Keen

No word about their mutual friend, Tom Terrific...

drove to a nearby convenience store. Once awakened, Dartyan slowly crept up Balzer's left arm, until she found a comfortable resting place on his shoulder, against his neck, with her pink nose continually sniff-sniffing. She can see only one inch in front of her during the day, two at night, Balzer remarked, so her senses of scent and touch are the best way to know that she's secure.

You know, I've used that excuse, too, but all it gets me is a slap in the face.

Causing a scene every time

Dartyan appears relaxed and comfortable on Balzer as he exits his 1995 Honda Civic and walks into Handy Andy's, met by a mixture of skeptics and the surprised. He fills a 44-ounce cup with Mountain Dew in preparation for the potential flock.

You know, these days you don't usually get such lovingly crafted detail in anything other than Dickens or Twain.

As the customers gradually gather around to gape, a woman asks, "What's her name?"

"Dartyan. She's a little sweetie," Balzer replies as he pays for his soda.

"Does she bite?"

"I've raised her since a baby, so she doesn't do that. If you went out and got a wild one as an adult, she could definitely do some damage.?

A young man in the crowd says, "Doesn't it have diseases?"

Always with the diseases. What IS IT with you people!?

Balzer responds, "People think they are disease-ridden. But they are not. They are not diseased at all. They actually are very clean and loving animals. ... They are a very harmless animal, if you don't do something to harm them."

Much like alligators, great white sharks, and Komodo dragons.

After getting his morning drink, Balzer wants to buy Dartyan a squirrel plush toy.

Because, you know, any animal that cannot see more than one inch in front of its face really appreciates the subtle differences between a squirrel plush toy and a sock.

Next stop: PetSmart, a big-box retailer where customers routinely bring along dogs and cats.

Balzer once again gets swarmed after just a few minutes of walking the aisles. When he reaches a checkout lane, the clerk nervously comments about the creature on his shoulder, "She looks like she's being a good girl."

Another employee, a couple of aisles over, yells, "Is that a possum? ... That's awesome!"

'Awesome Possum.' My new superhero name.

Shopper Elizabeth Muthandi, who suddenly looks up and discovers herself directly behind Balzer and Dartyan, starts wriggling in disbelief

"Wriggling in disbelief"? Every time she doesn't believe something, she wriggles!? Lady, have I got an ex-president who wants to meet YOU!

and stays back 10 feet or so, even as Balzer moves forward through the line.

"Oooh, that just gives me the creeeeps," Muthandi says.

Oh, you've already met him. OH WAIT, the possum...

Her 5-year-old son, Muthandi Murururi, responds, "Is that a mouse?"

"It looks like a rat ... with a tail, and it could jump off," Muthandi said. "I'm not getting by him."

"You have nothing to fear whatsoever," Balzer says.

Standing with fists on hips, and cape blowing in the breeze...

Unassured, Muthandi waits until Balzer has moved a few feet past the register until she feels comfortable slipping past.

"It looks like a mouse," the boy says again. His mother corrects, "It looks like a big rrrrraat."

Back at home, Balzer lets Dartyan stretch again along the back of the couch. Her distinguishing feature is a crimp in the tip of her tail, created as a baby when she sucked on it like a pacifier.

Awwwww, how fweet! But, THERE'S MORE!

A family's bond to animals

A big screen television dominates the living room in a house crowded with things and animals and people. Besides Balzer, Keen and Dartyan, the 2,400-square-foot rambler also is shared by Balzer's mother, his two sons, his older brother, his stepfather and his uncle. The decor's theme: Animal knick-knacks and stacks of magazines, including various horse sculptures and years worth of Cat Fancy magazine. The family breeds Bengal cats and chihuahuas in the back yard and has raised many other species, including badgers, bobcats and wolves. To dress up his appearance, Balzer often wears T-shirts with wolf images on the front, complemented by a necklace with silver wolf pendants.

You know, it takes all kinds. And then some.

As Balzer feeds Dartyan a hot dog and talks about her other favorite foods, including bananas, Doritos and McDonald's chicken nuggets, a pellet stove maintains the room at 80 degrees to help with his mother's arthritis. Everyone talks above the television noise.

Dartyan, at nearly 2 years old, already almost has doubled the life span of an opossum in the wild. Balzer said he's hoping she can make it to at least 14, the oldest known one in captivity. He talks about how she uses a litter box just once a day, routinely at 9:30 p.m.


Balzer is highly allergic to anything alcohol-based, including perfumes, he says, a disability that keeps him from holding a job for long. So he considers educating the public about opossums one of his prime purposes in life.

I'm highly allergic to work--I wonder if that's the same thing?

Hour upon hour daily he spends in his nearby bedroom, looking at information about animals, particularly opossums, on the Internet. If there's a fact, or even general observation, about opossums or their behavior, Balzer probably has read it and worked it into his spiel, which covers legal restrictions, their opposable thumbs, training potential, physiology and purpose in the grand cycle of life, earning the animal the nickname of "nature's little sanitation engineer."

They also have more teeth than any other land animal, and they love cars.

A recent Northwest arrival

Opossums ironically were brought to this area about the same time as their greatest nemesis: automobiles. A man named L.E. Roy of Pilot Rock, Ore. (near Pendleton), reported one, which had been sent to him from Oklahoma, escaping into the wild in 1921. During the 1927 trapping season, a dozen were captured, and historical accounts with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recorded Civilian Conservation Corps workers bringing opossums west of the Cascades in the 1930s ... as pets.

Clark County today has about 50,000 opossums roaming about in the wild, said Linda Moorhead, the county's interim animal control manager. That's about the same number of dogs and cats combined. She estimates that there are less than a dozen people in the county who keep opossums as pets.

That number is confirmed by Jud Witherspoon of East Mill Plain Animal Hospital, one of the few veterinarians in the area that will treat the species. He said, "They are a little misunderstood. They are not aggressive, killer-type animals. ... The gut reaction of people is that it chases my cat or eats my cat's food. They just don't have a good reputation. ... I'm not suggesting people go out and adopt opossums as pets, but if a person picks one up and saves it and wants to give it a life that it wouldn't have had, that's a wonderful thing. It's a good example of human nature respecting life."

Cue violins again.

Like any other domesticated animal might, Dartyan is expected to sleep on a pile of blankets at the foot of Balzer's single bed. She has a small, stuffed skunk to keep her company, but Balzer acknowledges that his pet often finds her way under his covers.

"She's my little snuggle bunny," Balzer said. "At night, I'll get a nose in the ear, or footies across my stomach and head. Every once in a while, I'll wake up with a cold nose in my belly button. Hey, I know people who do the same things with dogs and cats and even snakes. This is no different. ... If people think I'm strange, that's their choice. I have something that I love dearly. I'm happy about that. So what people think of me doesn't really matter."


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