Saturday, November 2, 2013

Introducing Ripley - But First An Opossum Story

Ripley was my first son and will always be the comparing standard for any other dog that I am lucky enough to be loved by.  Ripley was a labrador-german shepherd mutt born on May 8th, 1997 in Marietta, Ohio.  He grew up to be a 90lb beast with his ears not quite in the right place.  He was so ugly that he was considered cute by most people who met him but really know that it was his incredible intelligence and loving nature that won people over.  Ripley lived for over 13 years and passed in his sleep at home in 2010.  Not that any of this is significant now but it is relevant to who Ripley was as background for this story.  I will take the time to explain more about Ripley's early years and adventures in later posts but for now we will stick to his obsession with killing opossums.  

Ripley with me in our house in Tampa in 1998.
It was a beautiful spring day in Georgia so naturally Heather and I were outside cleaning up the yard, smelling the flowers, and just enjoying the day.  I was working in the flower bed in the front of the house when Heather came around from the back and asked me to dispose of the opossum Ripley had killed the night before.  This was nothing new for us as any living mammal that got into our backyard was quickly killed by Ripley.  As an example of Ripley's dedication to his self-assigned task of keeping mammals out of the backyard, the photo below shows the damage Ripley caused to our water overflow system when catching and killing a chipmunk (a completely different story but trust me, I have more Ripley stories than you would ever care to read).  Simply put, Ripley was relentless when it came to killing mammals that ventured into his backyard.

Ripley's Chipmunk Rampage
Opossums always seemed to be unusually dumb because they often wandered into our Georgia backyard even with a known serial mammal killer living there.  I think they thought their instinct to play dead when stressed would save them.  That said, I doubt Ripley was ever fooled by an opossum's pathetic attempt to avoid execution for the crime of coming into the backyard.   Ripley was extremely efficient when given a chance with an opossum which was more often than we will ever admit.  With extreme confidence in his strength and ability, Ripley would quickly grab the trespassing opossum mid-body, give it one or two powerful shakes to kill it, and then throw it around like a rag doll until he was bored with the game.  There is no doubt in my mind that Ripley was simply one of the best opossum killers ever known.  I do not even think a shotgun or a bear trap rival his efficient and quick technique.

Ripley at age 2
Now back to the nice spring day with a freshly dead opossum in the backyard.  There was nothing special about this day until the two neighbor girls stopped by.  These girls were extremely shy and rarely came over or spoke to us so I thought this must have been a special day.  It turned out it was special but not as I originally thought.  The girls came by to tell me they had lost their ferret and were wondering if I had seen it.  I knew the girls had a lot of pets plus I had helped these same neighbors with animal troubles before so I thought nothing of it.  For example: I had rescued their cockatiel from a tree the year before; helped remove numerous ratsnakes from their parrot breeding house; and helped teach them to trap raccoons which would get into the parrot house (this is a catastrophe worse than Ripley by the way).  Obviously they thought I might be able to help them again but as I later learned and should have guessed, Ripley had something to do with it.

At the time the girls came by to ask about their ferret, I answered honestly that "No, I had not seen their ferret."  I then proceeded to asked if it was tame and if I saw it could I pick it up without a nasty bite or should I take precautions to protect my hands.  They thought it would be tame enough to pick up so I told them I would bring it by if I found it.  As soon as they turned their backs to go home, it clicked.  THAT WAS NOT A DEAD OPOSSUM IN THE BACKYARD THAT HEATHER WANTED ME TO CLEAN UP....IT WAS A DEAD FERRET!  When Heather and I bumped into each other a little while later here was our conversation:

ME:  Honey, what did the opossum look like that Ripley killed last night?

Heather:  I don't know...brown and gray with some black on it.

ME:  Did it have a tail like a rat or was it furry?

Heather:  I guess it was furry.

ME:  Could it have been a ferret?

Heather:  I guess so...I did think it was a strange looking opossum.

ME:  Damn...The neighbor girls are looking for their ferret and I think Ripley got to it first.

Well, I can tell you honestly that I would have liked to have been present for the fight between Ripley and that ferret.  Ferrets are one of the most cunning predators on the planet.  Even domestic ferrets can wreak havoc on native wildlife very quickly if released.  They are known to routinely attack, kill, and eat things twice or three times their size.  It must have been an interesting fight especially since Ripley came out of it without a scratch.  This has always stumped me when I think about it - how did Ripley catch and kill a ferret without even receiving one bite from the ferret?  

Ripley as an old man still with evidence of rooting out mice in our rock gardens.

I never did tell our neighbors that Ripley killed their ferret.  I just felt it was better that they thought the ferret was still out there somewhere instead of them hating my dog.  Ripley was a killer; we could not hide that fact.  Unfortunately this caused some trouble with the locals (wildlife and pets) but those are different stories for a different day.  That day he killed the neighbor's ferret, we felt it was better for all that we keep Ripley's secret.

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