Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nigel lives, wiser for his brush with danger

It looks as though the tale of Nigel the possum is on it's way to becoming a saga.
Back in December, I wrote a column about a baby possum who showed up at our house four years ago, ingratiated himself into a litter of kittens and has been coming back every evening since for his helping of cat food.
We had been feeding Nigel on the front porch so there'd be no chance meetings with Lola, our Australian shepherd. Lola ruled the back yard and seemed to consider Nigel a potential chew toy.
We ran into a problem with this arrangement when some free-roaming neighborhood dogs discovered there were snacks available at our house. Their owners seem to feel leash laws are mere suggestions and couldn't possibly apply to their little darlings. These mutts began raiding Nigel's bowl each night.
One evening, I heard a curious banging out front. Peeking out, I saw Nigel bumping his empty bowl against the door. My husband thought he was simply foraging for stray pieces of cat food around the bowl. I prefer to think he was voicing his complaint at the poor service.
With reservations, I moved his bowl to the back deck. I was careful to fill it only after Lola was in for the night. This arrangement seemed to work for a while. Then one evening Lola needed to go out after bedtime. I checked outside and there was no sign of Nigel.
When I opened the door, Lola morphed from a big lovable pup into something from a Stephen King novel. Every muscle tensed and she was out the door, moving faster than I've ever seen her run. There was no barking, no snarling, just pure focus on her mission. That's when I realized what was happening. She was in a dark corner of the yard. I could hear muffled sounds and the rustle of leaves. I ran to her and saw she had something in her mouth: Nigel.
I yelled for her to drop him and she did. He lay in a furry mound at her feet. For the first and only time, I touched him. The fur that I had always thought would be coarse and greasy was actually heartbreakingly soft. I ordered Lola back into the house and spent the rest of the night in an uneasy sleep, dreaming of baby possums and dogs that suddenly became wolverines.
The next morning, my husband and I went out to bury Nigel. We had everything we needed: gloves, a plastic bag and a shovel. What we didn't have was Nigel.
It never crossed my mind that he might have done what possums do best: play possum.
That night changed everything. I still love Lola, of course. It's just now I've seen her feral side. I've seen the wolf, the hunter, that lurks inside every pampered house pet. Now I see her for what she is: a dog, not the third Glazer girl.
Nigel seems to have recovered from his encounter with the hellhound. He still comes around for his food but now he waits until much later, after the porch light is out and the house is dark. I miss watching him gobble down his dinner and then waddle off into the night.
While the lion may indeed lie down with the lamb, when it comes to the Aussie and the possum, well, I don't think so.

(Originally published Thursday, February 10, 2005 in the Gainesville Times)

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