2012 Year in Review: Leighann Cline, Front Desk Coordinator

Last year, many of our staff, students, and volunteers recounted their most memorable moments of 2011. We had so much fun reading and sharing these stories, we thought we’d do it again!  Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2012 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center.

My Irrational Fear of Opossums and the Road to Recovery

Looking back, I can admit now and even laugh a little about how terrified I used to be of Virginia Opossums. I’m not quite sure what it is about them that would elicit such a response; perhaps it was their long faces, their numerous sharp teeth, or the fact that as North America’s only marsupial they seem foreign or alien. A few years ago, I was living in Washington state … where opossums are few and far between.   I was visiting Virginia, driving to my dad’s house at night, when I saw a glow of eyes on the side of the road. When I realized it was an opossum, fear took hold of me and I swerved my car suddenly to avoid being anywhere near it (nearly into the ditch). I was convinced that given the opportunity it would somehow attach itself to the underside of my car and attack me! My vision of an opossum attack was very similar to the scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where the white rabbit springs from the ground and attaches itself to the jugular (irrational ... I know).

Fast forward to this year:  I moved to Virginia the namesake state of the North American Opossum. I knew from the second I moved here that I wanted to work at The Wildlife Center of Virginia but in my research, I discovered that the Center had educational opossums. It was a scary idea, but I decided I would cross that bridge when the time came. I began volunteering at the Center with the outreach department. Davis [former outreach coordinator] was a big fan of the opossums and spoke so fondly of them, but I had my reservations. On one of the tours I sat in on I discovered one of the opossums in the library, waiting for its public debut. My heart rate picked up a bit, my hand subconsciously raised to protect my throat. Davis spoke while I sat in the back, keeping an eye on that crate, positioned conveniently by the door in case I needed to make a quick escape. The moment came, Davis took out the opossum and I froze. Davis stood up there gently cradling the creature while it sniffed the air. It didn’t look so scary … Davis was still alive. I did have a relapse though when he fed the opossum a piece of apple and it displayed those 50 sharp teeth. At the end of the talk, I realized (quite happily) that I was just fine, and I perhaps could conquer this fear.

It was July when I was lucky enough to obtain the front desk coordinator position at the Wildlife Center. In this position I pushed myself to do a lot of research on various species we see here (opossums included), and I was also able to see the baby opossums that were admitted earlier in the spring. I had to admit to myself, baby opossums are pretty darn cute!

One day Kelli, one of our permitted rehabbers, asked me if I wanted to release one of the young opossums that was ready to go. Caught off-guard my first thought was “NO WAY”, but I found myself saying “Sure, why not?” She boxed the opossum up for me and I carefully carried it out to my car. I peeked in the box and found myself face-to-face with it. It was only about six inches long with little naked ears and a pink nose, hardly anything to be worried about. I drove around for an hour, trying to find the perfect future home for this little guy. When I found a place I hiked into the woods a bit, set the box down, opened it, and braced myself. Nothing happened. I tapped the box a bit – still nothing. I walked away and watched from a distance; still the opossum did not wander out. Finally I tipped the box and poured him out gently. He wandered a few feet and just when I was feeling good about myself he turned around and hissed at me before continuing to wander into the woods!

Despite his less-than-grateful response, I felt genuinely accomplished. I had swallowed my fear and did my part to help this baby opossum return to his place in the wild. Releasing wildlife, no matter what kind of creature it may be, is the most rewarding experience. I think this single moment was a breakthrough in my opossum phobia recovery.

--Leighann Cline

Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!