The Opossum and the Pudding
This is my First official entry in what I hope will be a vast collection of stories from the field. A day in the life of a wildlife removal specialist is usually never dull! I have literally serviced thousands of customers and handled thousands of different wildlife removal cases throughout the many years that I have been in this line of work. When you think about it, it’s pretty much impossible to have the same exact situation twice. Every home is built differently. I have been in multi-million dollar homes built by architects that have some of the weirdest architectural stuff going on to homes that are so run down and shoddy looking that upon first glance you think maybe you got the wrong address when you pull in to the driveway. When searching for animal entry points on a house or even trying to locate a dead animal in a wall or ceiling there is an infinite amount of places to look. The only thing that can prepare a person in this line of work to actually be successful locating a dead creature in the wall or ceiling of a giant home is experience. Learning as much as I can about building materials and methods has helped me become, at least now after all these years, confident in finding 95% of dead creatures by using my good ole shnozz. Your nose, like a loyal K-9, will never let you down! I will admit however, spending 30-45 minutes sniffing the scent of a dead creature takes a little getting used to. In fact if you sniff too much it’s easy to hyperventilate which is very embarrassing and always makes for interesting looks from the customer. All this talk about dead animal removal brings me back… way back to the first year in the field where I had an interesting experience with a large dead marsupial.
It was a very hot steamy day in the middle of the summer. I had actually just woke up and stumbled into the kitchen in an attempt to prepare coffee when my business phone rang. Being the proactive devoted wildlife technician that I am, I answered the phone even though it was pretty early in the morning. It was Mrs. Flemming… oh my dear Mrs. Flemming. One of the sweetest little elderly ladies I’ve had the pleasure of meeting (she was a previous customer of mine with a totally different wildlife problem). She said “Jim..I think I need your help. My sense of smell isn’t so good anymore but I think I smell a dead animal in my house”. She informed me that she had been smelling it for 2 weeks and it seemed to be getting worse. Instantly I knew that it wasn’t a tiny mouse. Whatever it was has lasted two weeks in the smoldering summer heat. Being a previous customer and a sweet little lady that used to make me pie and cookies when I came to see her, I told her I wouldn’t charge her for it and that it would be a favor for a good friend. Oh boy did I ever shoot myself in the foot that day!
I arrived at her house a few hours later. When I rang the doorbell and she opened the front door I was hit by a wall of rancid death stench. I had trouble smiling and chatting with her because the smell was so horrid. Almost eye burning. I said as nicely as I could, “Mrs. Flemming…why didn’t you call me sooner? This is a huge health risk. A lot of nasty chemicals and bacteria are released when an animal is decomposing”. She said “oh, I have just been sleeping in my chair in the kitchen with the kitchen door closed”. I then replied calmly “for two weeks?” She said, “Well yeah, I can’t sleep in there”! So, I cut the conversation short and began searching for the retched beast that was causing the godawful smell. I followed my nose on this one. It led me straight to the bathroom. Once I pinpointed its general location in the home I decided to see if maybe it was just lying under the home and the smell was coming from the floor. I crawled under her house with a smile on my face like I usually have when looking for a dead animal when I was slapped back to reality when an army of fleas decided to attack me at once. They infiltrated the ears and the nose. They were in my shirt collar and going up my britches. I couldn’t let poor Mrs. Flemming down, certainly not because of some dumb fleas! I crawled all the way to the bathroom area and immediately noticed flies, and with the flies came a river of maggots pouring out from under the bathtub plumbing pipe opening. I had found the mother load! I couldn’t see the rotten vermin from underneath so I decided demolition was in order. It was time to cut from the inside of the bathroom.
Oh boy was Mrs. Flemming eager to know what I found under her house! First, before anything else, I had to rid myself of the fleas that were in my ears and cloths. I grabbed my rubber gloves, headlamp, garbage bag, deodorizer aerosol and my electric saw and moved into the bathroom. Luckily I didn’t have to cut anything because her bathtub already had an inspection hole cut. So I took out the screws holding the inspection panel to the wall…. and all hell broke loose. Flies by the hundreds flew out filling the bathroom (luckily I had the door shut) maggots began crawling out. I had my mask on which is designed to filter out organic vapors and I could still smell this animal. I peeked behind the tub with the help of my headlamp. There may have been 8”-10” of clearance behind the tube and the back wall and I certainly couldn’t fit behind there. Low and behold I followed the river of maggots to the far back corner. There it was, in all of its terrible heinous glory..a big fat dead opossum. It was currently 2 weeks in to the decay stage so It was not going to be simply grabbed in one piece and put into the bag..ooooh no, this one had to be removed by the handfuls. Yup, the body was undulating with the maggot’s movement inside. But, I couldn’t reach it with my arm. I had to wedge myself behind the tub in between pipes and the back wall. I was laying on the river of maggots while grabbing pasty peanut butter like flesh by the handfuls. Each handful felt like I was grabbing warm extra chunky peanut butter with an occasional bone in it. It was all going as well as it possibly could (which wasn’t that great to begin with) until I started to rush…. I eventually grabbed the spine of the creature and was hoping to pull the rest out in one piece. I was not that lucky unfortunately. I pulled my body back too quickly in excitement and much to my chagrin the edge of my respirator got caught on a pipe. This action resulted in my respirator falling off. The decomposing chemical blast at ground zero made my eyes burn immediately. So I did what anyone else would have done in that situation. I screamed like a little girl! Much to my horror Mrs. Flemming heard my scream and tried to come into the bathroom. I said “No! Stay away..I'm ok! ”..There was a strange silence and then I heard her say “let me know if you want some pudding when you are finished..I just made some.” Oh sweet Mrs. Flemming was just clueless as to what was going on in her bathroom. Anyhow, I managed to pull the carcass out of the void and put it in a thick bag. I cleaned up the mess the best that I could, leaving the live maggots behind the tub to eventually fall out of the hole leading under the house. I then deodorized the best I could and put the inspection plate back on the wall.
Mrs. Flemming was grateful for my efforts and quickly gave me a huge bowl of creamy pudding….and yes, I still smelled like death but that didn’t matter to her. She was just happy that her friend came to help her out. Even though I would have liked to see some pay dirt on this one, it was worth doing for her as a friend.