How do I keep my backyard free of murdered possums?
December 29, 2014 1:19 PM   Subscribe

I have buried 3 possums in my yard in the past 6 weeks or so and I'm starting to feel like a serial killer.

I have a fenced backyard -- sideyard really -- between my (rented) house and my neighbors. The area is sort of an urban-suburb with enough tree cover that there's a small copse of trees behind my house, some of which overhang the yard. Both my neighbor and I have crawl spaces with openings into the yard. Mine is fully covered, theirs not so much. When the weather is nice, I leave the backdoor open so my dog can run around in the yard and work on pooping in all the places (and this is the South, so even in December, the weather is not too bad). I will also let him out in the yard for a bit at night when he needs to do some excreting before bed.

The problem I am having is that possums keep getting into this yard from... somewhere. They are then subsequently killed with frightening efficiency by my dog. (Photo of the alleged dog in the alleged yard.) I don't want my dog to get injured or catch some disease from the possums. I sure as shit don't want him to bring them into the house looking very pleased with himself. And really, I would like to stop burying possums in my yard.

My own crawlspace opening is covered, but my neighbor's has a cover with holes a possum could totally crawl through. Is it possible the possums are coming from there? The other option is that they are dropping down into the yard from the trees. The fence is solid with no holes they can squeeze through, and is something like 9 feet tall, so I don't think they are climbing over?

This page from a previous related question lists some possible ways to deter possum intrusion, but some of them are nonviable. I can't for instance, set up lights, because that would right outside my neighbor's bedroom window. I also can't set up any sort of repellent that might harm/repel my dog.

One option I'm considering is talking to my neighbors about covering their crawlspace entrance with a solid cover (as mine is), but I don't actually know if that's where they are coming from and really I think it would be on them to hire an exterminator to get rid of the problem under their house. The other thing would be trimming some of the more potentially possum carrying branches. Is there anything else I could be doing to deter possums from entering what is rapidly becoming a possum graveyard?
posted by Panjandrum to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Possums, cats, squirrels are all going to be able to get in your yard. Ever seen one of them critters scamper up a tree?

You can do a dog run, with a roof an a grassy or sandy area for poop. For times when you want to let the dog out, critters can go about their nocturnal business and your dog can do his dog business in the dog run.

Peaceable kingdom.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:41 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, stop burying, and do trim branches if you can.

We keep a fairly sharp ear on our dogs when they're out at night, and we've been lucky enough several times to intervene while the possum is still playing possum, maybe a little roughed up but not dead, and bringing the dogs inside so the possum can recover and leave. (But our dogs are sad when the possum stops playing and they don't keep worrying it. I know that's not how all dogs are going to do.)
posted by Lyn Never at 2:01 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

How long have you lived there? Has there always been a dog? Wild critters in my neighborhood seem to have figured out which yards they can hang out in vs. which ones have dogs. Not sure if it's through scent, experience, or natural selection. If you or the dog are somewhat new, it may just be a matter of establishing the back yard as "yours" by letting your dog do his thing out there.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 2:04 PM on December 29, 2014

Cute dog! Let him run those possums out before it's baby possum time!

What do you mean when you talk about the crawlspace? Able to squeeze under the fence?
posted by feste at 2:22 PM on December 29, 2014

My old dog killed unknown numbers of possums. Millions, possibly. The whole "play dead" thing apparently just made them thatmuch easier to kill.

Effect on local possum population? None. They are pretty ubiquitous in (sub)urban areas and we certainly had an endless supply.
posted by fshgrl at 2:40 PM on December 29, 2014

Best answer: Oh God, don't bury them in your yard! (It might even be against the law or a danger to the water supply.) Call animal control and/or the garbage company and find out their policy on dead critter disposal. Sometimes animal control will come get the critters, no charge. Other times they tell you to double bag it and put it in the trash; other times they want you to write "DEAD ANIMAL" on the bag in sharpie so it doesn't surprise the trash guys when they heave your can. Sometimes you call a number and your trash company does special curbside pickup of your double-bagged carcass within 24 hours.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:50 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing calling animal control in your area to find out how they want you to dispose of the dead animals. My dog used to kill enough possums that animal control knew my address by my voice. Sigh. Luckily, there wasn't any charge for the dead animal pickup… but they came out often enough that I would give them cookies.

And yeah, the possums are most likely climbing the fence. Those bastards can jump.

Make sure your dog's up to date on their shots, too.
posted by culfinglin at 4:20 PM on December 29, 2014

Response by poster: My local Dept. of Sanitation handles dead animal removal and they charge a fee if said dead animal is on private property; hence laying them to rest in situ. I suppose I could chuck the corpses into the road? No. That seems like a bad idea for a number of reasons.

I did bury the last one in a garbage bag, but the first one I just wanted to get rid of. The second one I thought, OK, surely this won't happen again. It wasn't until this last one that I began to think maybe I should step up my possum burying game.

If this happens again (oh god why?) I'll give sanitation a call to see what their trashcan policy is. At least I can rest easy knowing the 2nd and 3rd victims were disgusting corpse-eating cannibals.

Thanks everyone!

To round out the other questions:

- Lived here for almost 5 years now. I can assure you that the yard is covered in a fine patina of canine... scent.

- Crawlspace. A common enough feature in old southern homes like the one I'm in.

- When I mean "frightening efficiency," I mean it. I witnessed the 2nd one and it was over in about a second. The possum may have been playing dead, but if so he was very committed to the act.

- Reese is fully up-to-date on shots; first thing I made sure of.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:30 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Vicious Poodle and his annual Springtime Murderizing tradition caused me to learn that while my city's sanitation department wouldn't pick up dead animals, I could bag them up and drop them off at animal control for cremation and disposal. If your city has an animal shelter that euthanizes, you might give them a call.
posted by amelioration at 5:34 PM on December 29, 2014

Note that they play possum - and it is very convincing, including little to no obvious respiration - almost instantly and they stay "dead" for as long as they perceive a threat. You have to leave them alone, sometimes 30-40 minutes, before they'll get up.

I doubt you buried them alive (they likely would have dug out) but do make sure to give them a good long time to remove themselves from the vicinity, just in case they are actually a self-solving problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:11 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good grief, I've seen pitchforked-through possums take off again. I think they have 99 lives.

Just use pitchfork or shovel, dump them at the side of the road, and whatever eats roadkill will take care of them before the sanitation people even notice.
posted by stormyteal at 11:30 PM on December 29, 2014

Definitely check the finer points with animal control, as jamaro suggests.

Avoid putting them in the road. I grew up in the boondocks of Oregon, population probably twenty times as many possums as people, and their carcasses could hang around for a week or two. Fresher carcasses (ugh) are dangerous in roads; a moment's inattentiveness and the surprising "boom-thud" of a possum under your wheels can lead to driving accidents. Worse, someone might think it's alive and swerve to avoid it. (That would be me at age 16, bending my front wheels out of true as I slammed into a sidewalk curb. The car shop people shrugged and said it happens all the time.)
posted by fraula at 6:32 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You have to leave them alone, sometimes 30-40 minutes

All of these had a few hours to mosey off, since the incidents in question typically occurred at night an I took a "well, if you're still there in the morning..." approach.

whatever eats roadkill

This is still an intown neighborhood with foot traffic, so a street dumping would be inconsiderate and would probably only lead to numerous people walking their dogs having to pull a "no, do not eat that no" before any real scavenger got a hold of the carcass.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:05 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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