By Karen and Mick Weagle (Mick has helped care for pets at AHNA as an exam room assistant since 2003.)
Possum was a very young stray kitten when a client brought her to the Animal Hospital of North Asheville. She was almost dead. When she was brought in to the hospital, she was limp and seemed lifeless, and she appeared to have no eyes. She was probably only 3 or 4 weeks old at most. The kind soul who rescued her found 2 children playing with her lifeless body and brought her to the hospital. Dr. Susan Wootten believed Possum could be saved, and so her treatment began.
It was originally thought that Possum had been born without eyes, but she was actually born with a condition called micro-ophthalmia, which literally means "small eyes." Her tiny underdeveloped eyes are fully behind 3rd eyelids, membranes that cover her eye sockets and give her the appearance of having pink eyes. She is completely blind. Her nose was rather pointy when she was a kitten, and the combination of her pink "eyes" and pointy little nose led Beth Cook, one of the technicians at AHNA, to call her "Possum," which somehow seemed just right, and the name stuck. Beth is still one of Possum's favorite people and is her godmother.
Everyone at AHNA fell in love with Possum because she had such spirit. She was very seriously ill with pneumonia, but she was sweet and very playful. When I first met her, she was being held by loving staff members at AHNA. After spending just a little time with her that day, I fell in love with her. Someone suggested Mick and I should bring her home. I realized that it was her blindness that would make her the perfect companion for our little dog, Peanut. We had been considering adopting a 2nd Chihuahua as a companion for our little guy, but I really wanted a cat. The problem we faced with a cat was that we have a little doggie door for Peanut that leads into a small fenced yard. We were afraid a cat would climb the fence and wander into the wilderness that surrounds our home. We didn't think a domestic cat would last long with the coyotes and bobcats we often see around our home. I thought it was unlikely that Possum would use the doggie door because of her blindness, but I couldn’t be 100% sure until we brought her home. I suggested to Mick that we adopt Possum and it wasn't hard to convince him that she would be the perfect addition to our little family.
Just before Christmas 2004, we brought Possum home. She was still very sick and being treated for the pneumonia that just would not let go. It was touch and go for several weeks. She never seemed to feel bad, she was always purring and in good spirits, but you could hear the fluid in her lungs rattling around, and she coughed a lot. There were a few times we thought she might not make it and that we would lose her. We had fallen head-over-heels in love with her, and we were thrilled to have this little character in our lives, but I remember spending a good amount of time crying because I was so afraid we would lose her. I took her in to the hospital almost daily for breathing treatments (nebulization), and we tried several rounds of different antibiotics. The doctor’s at AHNA didn't feel they could safely do any invasive diagnostic testing because her condition was so fragile, and she just would not cough up the fluid that was in her lungs so it could be tested. I believe every veterinarian at AHNA was involved in her care at some point, and Dr. Wootten even consulted veterinarians from all over the country via the Internet. We are still not sure exactly what made the difference, but her lungs finally cleared up and we were able to relax a little and enjoy our new family member.
I can't say Peanut was as thrilled with the new addition to the family. When Possum first came home with us, Peanut was very aggressive towards her, and we were very afraid he might hurt her. We had to supervise them closely. For several days Possum was kept in a wire mesh "corral" in the living room so Peanut could get used to having her in the house. All through this, Possum was curious about Peanut. She never seemed afraid of him and she never displayed any aggression toward him. Gradually, over 2 weeks, Peanut learned to tolerate Possum, and we could actually leave them together unsupervised. Still, Possum was very interested in Peanut and seemed determined to make a friend out of him. She would approach him over and over and never gave up. We don't remember exactly how long it took, but before long he would sit on the same piece of furniture with her or allow her to climb on to whatever lap he was occupying without snarling at her. Over the next year or so, they became friends and even started playing together. They sometimes wrestle with each other, and other times they chase each other around the house. It has always been very clear that Possum was smitten with Peanut no matter what he did or how he treated her. She has been amazingly patient. Peanut shows his affection for Possum in different ways, but there is no doubt he is now crazy about her, too.
Remarkably, Possum manages to run at full speed through the house and rarely bumps into things. It is only when she is afraid or nervous that you see any evidence that she is blind. Even if we carry her from one room to another, she seems to know exactly where she is. It is almost spooky. If we move something in the house, she only has to bump into it one time before she knows exactly where it is in relation to everything else. She "sees" with her ears, and this gives the illusion that she isn’t blind. There are times that it seems impossible to believe that she can't see, but she can't. She loves to sit by an open window and listen to the world outside. She chases and sometimes catches the odd bug that gets inside in the summertime.
And about that little doggy door: To our relief, and pleasant surprise, she does not try to go through it. If Peanut goes outside, she sits by the door and waits for him to come back, but she stays in the house.
We did have one horrible incident when she got outside. We had left the garage door open, and the door into the house from the garage blew open. Usually if there is no obstruction, Possum will go anywhere, the typical curious cat. When I realized that the door was standing open and evidently had been for a while, my first thought was of Possum. I yelled to Mick that the door was open and asked if he knew where the cat was. He didn't, so he ran outside to look for her while I tore the house apart hoping I would find her in one of her favorite hiding places. He spotted her almost immediately just outside the garage, and he yelled out to let me know he had found her. Unfortunately, his loud voice frightened her, and she ran the other way and wound up going down the steep side of the mountain into the woods and thick underbrush. Without knowing what he would land on, Mick jumped off the edge of the road and fell quite a distance. He hit his head pretty hard on the way down, but he kept after her. He followed her down the mountain to another road that is below our property, and then she started back up the mountain toward the house. He climbed up after her. He was feeling like he was at the end of his rope physically and was praying hard that she would let him catch her when she just flopped over and stayed put. He managed to pick her up, but she was terrified and was clawing at him and biting him. I hadn't heard him when he tried to let me know he had spotted her outside, so all that time I had no idea he had found her. When I came outside, I could hear her growling and snarling, and I could hear him in the brush below trying to calm her. He asked me to get something to wrap her in, so I got a quilt. I had to climb part of the way down to reach him with it, and then to get all of us back up, Mick had to push me and carry Possum at the same time. I still can't quite figure out how he managed to do what he did! He was bruised and scratched all over and had quite a bump on his head. Possum, on the other hand, didn't seem to suffer any ill effects at all from her adventure. The only thing amiss when we got her home and looked her over was that she had some dirt in her eye sockets that we had to flush out. We have since that time installed an automatic screen door at the door between the garage and the house. Those were without a doubt the absolutely worst 30 minutes or so of our lives and we definitely did not want to go through that ever again.
We have now had Possum for a little over 6 years. She and Peanut are inseparable, although he still looks almost embarrassed at times about his affection for her. She is especially affectionate first thing in the morning when we are all getting up, and they butt heads when they greet each other. She sometimes bathes him head to toe, and he stretches out and seems to thoroughly enjoy the spa treatment! Every now and then he will give her a little smooch on the nose. Typically Possum doesn't like to be touched, but she loves to snuggle with Mick and most of the time will lap up all the love he wants to give her. She seems to think I'm just a big toy. She will tolerate a little attention from me and occasionally she will sit on my lap, but usually she comes to me when she wants to play. She and Peanut sometimes wrestle with each other, but usually when they play it is to chase each other around the living room. She ambushes him by hiding behind the furniture and waiting for him to walk by and then jumps on him. She knows how to hide, even though she can't see. Sometimes she plays "ostrich" by putting the front part of her body under the bed skirt and leaving her tail end sticking out. She seems genuinely surprised if you touch her, as if she really believed she was completely concealed. She runs up and down the stairs, taking the steps 2 and 3 at a time. Honestly, you would never know she was blind.
We love our little Possum.