The folks at Southern Opossum Sanctuary, or Opossum SOS, want to educate Upstate residents about the beneficial and misunderstood creatures.
The S.C. nonprofit, which was founded by Connie Reese, works to rescue opossums and provide rehabilitation services for them. Over 12 people volunteer for the organization and respond to a number of calls.
Greenville’s Peggy Ambler is one of the volunteers who primarily focuses on rehabilitating opossums. When she began, she would respond to opossum 911 calls.
“If an opossum was hit or acting strange, like doing circles on the side of the road, the organization would message us with a 911 update and a location that we could respond to,” Ambler said.
This was the extent of Ambler’s participation until Shelby, an injured opossum, came along. Ambler said she felt equipped to rehabilitate Shelby because of her career as a physical therapist.
Ambler has been rehabilitating opossums for about six months, usually taking them into her home. “The goal is to rehabilitate them to the point where they can be released somewhere,” Ambler said.
However, Shelby’s case was different and Ambler decided to keep her. Her injury kept her from being able to survive in the wild.
While some may find it strange to have an opossum as a pet, Ambler said she couldn’t be happier. She said she loves to educate people on the perks of opossums and to dispute the misconceptions often heard about them.
“I think people are afraid of them,” Ambler said. “Don’t get me wrong, they will eat an animal or attack an animal if they have to or feel threatened.”
However, she said opossums are often the victims of myths created about them. “People think that they carry rabies, and very seldom is that the case,” she said.
According to farmersalmanac.com, opossums are not considered a rabies-vector animal, meaning they don’t spread it. The reason foam is often found around their mouth is because of an involuntary reaction — like fainting.
Another misconception is that opossums eat trash. While they may resort to that when food is scarce, opossums require a balanced diet in order to avoid metabolic bone disease, Ambler said.
“MBD comes from an improper diet and the disease can’t be spread to other animals,” she said. “It is when the bones start to deteriorate because of a lack of proper nutrients, like calcium.”
Opossums are very beneficial to the Upstate area because they are carrion feeders. An opossum can also eat 5,000 ticks in a season, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
“We need them in our woods and in our community,” Ambler said. “I understand that people think they are a nuisance, but with all of the opossums I have rehabbed, they have never offered to bite me.”