A ‘Possum Dies in Washington

Last May, the Washington Humane Society offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction – are you ready for this? – of someone who killed a possum in a Washington alley.

No fooling. It was big news inside the Beltway, and the Washington Post and FM radio station WTOP played it to the hilt. On the WTOP web site, reporterette Kate Ryan started her tearjerker story in melodramatic fashion:

“The crime scene is an alley. The victim, a young mother of ten.”

Jim Spencer, editor of T&PCThe possum, see, was carrying ten newborns in her pouch, and was found dead next to several chunks of broken concrete and brick. Readers were advised to use discretion when viewing two accompanying photos because they were “graphic.”

I looked, and woooooooo, was I horrified! I may never enter an alley again. It was hideous! Disturbing! Awful!

It was…good Lord, it was a dead possum, okay? Highways across the country are paved with ‘em. But evidently the Washington Humane Society and the Post and WTOP think the cute little darlings are divine, because they played up this dead she-possum for all it was worth.

For much more than it was worth, actually. Everybody wanted the vicious criminal who, in reporterette Ryan’s breathless words, “smashed her [the possum] over and over again with bricks” brought to justice and stomped. Here are a couple reader comments from the WTOP web site:

“People are the scum of the earth. There are too many of us & too few animals. Time to thin the human herd.”

“I hope they find the scum that did this and smash them with bricks.”

 Reactions like that are perilously close to PETA’s “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” mentality – a belief that a possum’s life is worth as much as a human’s. Or, more accurately, that a human’s life is worth as little as a possum’s.

I’m not defenhding animal cruelty here, so don’t misunderstand. But to repeat: what we’re talking about here is a possum. The animal at the low end of the American furbearer list. The carp of the fur trade. One of the most prolific and common mammals in the western hemisphere.

Nobody condones going around bludgeoning possums, or anything else, but nobody knows what went on in that Washington alley last May. Maybe the possum tried to get into the food sack of a homeless person. Maybe it bumped into somebody, got startled as possums do, and made that hissing, scary face possums make when things aren’t going their way. A city-dweller might consider that sort of behavior pretty threatening, and take appropriate measures to deal with it.

It’s easy for us to find the story laughable on many levels: that the Humane Society would offer a $1,000 reward; that pictures of a dead possum would be considered “graphic”; that one reader commenting on the WTOP web site repeatedly called possums “rodents” without being corrected; that anybody would find the story newsworthy to begin with.

Yep, it’s easy to sit up here where reason abounds and laugh at the cretins who think that way…until we realize those folks are as smart as we are. They’re just uninformed and uneducated about the natural world. Either that, or they’re misinformed and miseducated, which is worse.

That’s why all of us need to inform and educate non-trappers about this thing of ours. We operate within our own little subculture, interacting with other like-minded folks at local, state and national trapper get-togethers, and that’s great. Doing so reinforces our bond, strengthens our love of trapping, and helps spread and share knowledge and information.

But we also need to talk trapping with people outside the circle. All of us know many such people. ADC trappers have perhaps the biggest opportunity for this education-beyond-the-schoolyard stuff, but you don’t have to be on a nuisance animal complaint to educate your non-trapping acquaintances.

Several times every season, my trapping partner and I take folks with us on our line. We’ve taken a dentist and his wife, a guy who believes in Sasquatch, a Corps of Engineers lake manager, and several neighbors. Every time, we educate these non-trappers about trapping and nature in general. None of those people will ever gasp in horror when they see a dead possum.

If you’ve never taken a non-trapper on your trapline, you’re missing a chance to strike a blow for the cause. It’s enjoyable, it’s educational for everybody, and it increases our base of supporters. All those are good things.

Who are you going to take this year?

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