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When Leona Miller called it a night and decided to go to sleep, she wasn’t expecting a late-night wake-up call. But that’s exactly what she got a few weeks ago.
Miller woke up in her home on Third Avenue to rustling and gnawing sounds under her house. She thought it might be a raccoon, rat or other rodent, but at 82 years old, she wasn’t about to try and crawl under the house.
“I just got out of bed, picked up my shoe and pounded on the floor,” Miller said. “It was getting really bad, because it would wake me up all night long. I was falling asleep in church and everywhere else because I was so tired.”
Miller enlisted the help of her neighbor, Sandy Burke, who came over to investigate and set a couple of live traps baited with hot dogs. Burke had her suspicions that the critter might just be the elusive opossum she named “Charlie,” after Charlie Sheen on the television show “Two and a Half Men,” but she couldn’t be sure without capturing the critter first.
“I’ve been after this bugger for about six months now,” Burke said. “This opossum first was under my house, but we couldn’t catch it. Then it got into our house, and we trapped it in an upstairs room in a closet. While we were trying to figure out what to do with it, he ate a hole right through the ceiling and got out.”
Opossums are considered an invasive species by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department. They’re some of the oldest and most primitive of living mammals, and some believe they were introduced by eastern travelers who brought them along for future dinners. If you’ve lived in the area any length of time, chances are pretty good that you’ve encountered an opossum crossing the road late at night or seen the remains of an opossum that met its fate under the wheels of a passing car.
Burke has lived in the area for more than a decade, and has seen her share of opossums and other animals in the Estacada area. She thought she had finally forced old Charlie to move on, but he’d only crossed the street and found a home at Miller’s house. The first night, Burke caught a grey and white neighborhood cat, but on the second night she caught the opposum when he crawled out from under Miller’s house for the hot dog.
“I was so glad she finally caught him,” Miller said. “She’s a good neighbor. She walks her dog every day and checks on everybody. She’s a really good friend to us. That opossum chewed a big hole in my fence to get into our yard and was chewing things up under the house. I figured he would get inside pretty soon if we didn’t catch him.”
Burke’s husband loaded Charlie into the back of his car last week and drove him 10 miles up Highway 224 to release him into the wild. While he’s not the only one to let a critter go like that, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife considers the act illegal. Because the opossum is considered an invasive species and often a nuisance, it must be euthanized rather than released.
Pest control expert Tim TenBrink operates Critter Control and has been in the business for more than 10 years. He’s seen his share of opossums, raccoons, squirrels and other invaders and said this is the time of year when homeowners encounter more problems with wildlife.
“Opossums are probably fourth on the list of the most common things people call us about,” TenBrink said. “We mainly serve the Portland Metro market, so we handle a lot of calls about squirrels, moles and raccoons, too.”
Pest and rodent control professionals such as TenBrink must be licensed with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agency maintains a list of licensed professionals that homeowners can call if an opossum or rodent is causing problems. Such licensed professionals are required to follow state regulations for trapping and disposing of pests and rodents. The state agency allows several methods of euthanasia for pests and rodents; TenBrink uses a carbon-monoxide chamber to euthanize opossums after he traps them.
“When we get a call about a problem, we go to the home and do a full inspection of the structure to try and figure out if the animal is living under the house, in the attic, in the garage or near the house,” TenBrink said. “We’ll set cage traps and bait it up with sweets and see what we get.”
TenBrink has captured thousands of pests in his 12 years on the job, and believes prevention is the key to preventing problems when it comes to an opossum, raccoon or other pest.
“Walk around your house and see if all the screens are covering the crawl space under your house,” TenBrink said. “Rats, mice, cats, raccoons and opossums look for open places like that to get in there and have their babies, especially this time of year. A lot of times, if you had an air condition unit installed, or cable TV installed, the screens might have been broken in the process.”
If one of your foundation screens is open, TenBrink recommends wadding up some newspaper and stuffing it in the hole. That way, if something is living under the house, it will likely push out the newspaper to get out. If nothing changes for a few days, it’s probably pretty safe to seal up the hole.
“When we get calls about a odor around the house, a lot of times it ends up being an opossum that crawls under there and dies,” TenBrink said. “I did once go on a call where an opossum was caught in the netting of a kids baseball batting cage. I was able to walk up to it and cut it out of the net, and it just sat there with its mouth open looking at me.”
Opossums can be aggressive, but will often play “opossum” by lying perfectly still as if asleep. However, if an opossum feels threatened, it may hiss or bite to protect itself or its young, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
TenBrink has captured his fair share of opossums in the Portland area, come face to face with a skunk more than once and rescued ducks, owls, and raccoons from chimneys. He’s seen firsthand the damage a rodent can do, like ripping a hole in a roof to build a nest, and had to retrieve dead rodents from tiny crawl spaces more than once. He does make it to Estacada occasionally, but mainly to handle calls about problems with bats.
“A lot of people probably don’t know opossum, raccoons…are considered invasive species,” TenBrink said. “If we catch them, state law does require euthanasia.”
Got an opossum problem?
The opossum is considered a non-native invasive species by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you have an opossum problem, the animal must be trapped by a licensed professional and euthanized. For more information, call the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at 971-673-6000.
Credits: By Evan Jensen, Estacada News