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Our very own Grinch: A holiday success story

I’m back with another iteration of revamped holiday fun! This is where I take a well-known, beloved holiday (aka Christmas since that is what I personally celebrate and know best) story or song and transform it to fit into our daily lives here at the Zoo. You can read my holiday themed Keeper Blogs from 2021, “The 12 Days of ‘Zoo’mas” and 2020, “Twas the Night Before ‘Zoo’mas” to see what I really mean! This year I am going to go a little less literal because the story I love best is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and that is way too long for me to put into a blog. Okay not really, but you all might find it too long and tedious to read! I would like you all to know that I am of course listening to Christmas music as I write this, and un-ironically the first song that came on when I sat down to type is called “What Is Christmas?” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It is sung from the point of view of a guy who simply loathes Christmas. Even if you’re not into Christmas you should give the song a listen because it’s hilarious!

I’m sure by this point most people know “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” We understand the main character is not a fan of Christmas, the Whos down in Whoville, or really any form of seasonal merriment. We even call people “grinches” when they show a strong distaste for the Christmas season. But that’s not the whole picture. The Grinch claims redemption from literally stealing Christmas at the end of the story after sweet Cindy-Lou Who shows him kindness and he learns from the Whos that Christmas is about much more than the physical “stuff.” At this point I know you are wondering where I’m going with this. I am of course going to tell you which of the animals here at Wieland are most Grinch-like. And that would be Peach, our Virginia opossum!

Peach came to us with extra poor vision; this was the reason she was deemed non-releasable into the wild. Now it’s worth noting that opossums already have poor vision, which they make up for with excellent hearing and smell. Peach’s vision is just much worse. Due to this, she was extra cautious in her environment, and had no problem letting her human caregivers know just how much she didn’t care for our presence. Much like the Grinch uses his words to complain about how joyful and merry the Whos are, even using methods to scare them away from his home, Peach also had her own ways of letting us know she was unhappy with us in her space. Opossums’ primary way of scaring off predators is to show off those pearly whites.  In other words, 50 super-sharp teeth clearly visible to a predator is a great way to get them to leave you alone, so Peach had no problem yawning in our presence to show off those teeth. That’s the most polite way an opossum can ask you to leave them alone. It is well established thanks to the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” that his appearance alone should scare anyone who wishes to get a little too close to him. That is exactly what opossums are trying to do when they “smile” at you. If that doesn’t work, opossums do what they are best known for, which is playing dead! Part of that playing dead is passing gas, defecating, urinating, and going unconscious for hours at a time. There were a few times where Peach did pass gas when we attempted to start kennel training her, so we knew that was our cue to end the session because she really didn’t want to participate. In the live action “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” we see this happen in real time when Grinch breathes in the face of a Who and they end up passing out from the smell.

Opossums are also solitary animals, actively choosing to live away from other opossums. Their preferred living space? A nice tree hollow or burrow is just fine for them. Mr. Grinch? Lives in near solitude in his own version of a hollow on the side of Mount Crumpit! I know what you’re thinking, “but Emily, he lives with Max!” Yes, I do see your point, but if I didn’t want to live with other humans I too, would still have my dog as my companion. I know quite a few humans who live solitarily but have pets at home, although none of us use our dogs to pull sleighs and steal presents…

OK, back to the Grinch and Peach. We were determined to make Peach comfortable in her home and to trust us enough to begin training. We didn’t want to give up on her like the Whos down in Whoville did to the Grinch. Cindy-Lou Who saw the good in the Grinch, and we could see it in Peach as well. We started small, by spoon feeding her favorite foods like boiled eggs, fruit, and best of all, crickets. Slowly Peach recognized that when keepers came in her home, they brought good stuff and were nothing to be nervous about. From there we were able to start teaching her to walk into her kennel on her own, and she crushed kenneling! Now this isn’t a scenario where we lulled her into a false sense of security and then gave her a Christmas shave. We wanted to keep going with this success! So, with training and treats, she allowed us to start to touch her back and legs, which is great for physical health checks and is another great step to voluntary nail trims. Thanks to more time, more positive reinforcement, and kindness, we accomplished voluntary nail trims. Peach had returned Christmas to us! Okay not really, but you get the idea. I am so proud how far our little “Grinch” has come. I’d say her heart has really grown three sizes in our stay.

Emily B.
Keeper III, Ambassador Animals

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