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Josie, the Possum - Wildlife Carer's Worst Nightmare

An old age pensioner tells his heartbreaking story of Josie, the little possum joey who he and his wife lovingly raised but was unable to release due to human imprinting. After 6 years of being part of Raoul Harvey's family, suddenly the RSPCA tried to confiscate her and another possum they were rehabbing. That's when all hell broke loose! It's time some new laws were made in the best interests of the animal, not the law. Read what this courageous man did to outwit the system.

I wonder if our childrens’ children will read about us as the ones who looked after the animals we used to have in the wild?

My first experience with "real" wildlife care started on 21/01/2003 when a female possum who used to stop by our door regularly for a handout came inside our house one night and would not leave despite gentle persuasion. We went to bed leaving the door open should "Mrs Possum" change her mind and leave.

In the morning she was dead on our loungeroom floor and in her pouch was a little pinky who became Josie and a unique and wonderful bond was forged that January morning. I rang around and the word was to tap her on the head, something I could not do because of the trust Josie's mother had in me looking after her baby. Talk about jumping in the deep end! I purchased every book, searched every site that mentioned possums and did everything possible to get this little charge through.

Most of our friends thought us mad when we would visit with our baby and I'm sure some thought we had early dementia but each day Josie became stronger and we became prouder with what we were seeing, our baby was going to make it. So like the proud parents we had become we built Josie a nice new home and when she was about 26 weeks of age we moved her in.

Well, what a disappointment! She wanted nothing to do with her sheepskin covered bed, her new shiny stainless food and water bowls and the two fans installed at each end of her house, all she wanted was to be in my shirt (I learnt very early to put a T shirt on first).

What to do? Being an experienced dad I knew exactly what was needed. I would sit in her cage with her until she nodded off and quietly sneak off. Well I forgot possums play at night and sleep all day. Josie thought it was wonderful that her dad had moved in with her and showed her happiness by jumping from the top of her box on to my head all night, each time she had a breather I crept out but each time she would see me gone and scream out until I returned.

This could not continue so I got in touch with a carer and it was suggested I put a child's teddy bear in her box. I dont know what Josie thought the toy was but it did the trick and a little sanity returned to our house.

Next trick was to find what bush tucker she ate. Another bright idea, I put her in my shirt and we would ride around our 5 acres on the rideon mower and stop at every likely tree and shrub and find out what she liked and after a few days I had a fair idea but it seemed Josie liked the ride as much as jumping on my head and so began a ritual that lasted for 6 years and 190 days.

I should mention here that the reason I never went to QPWS or any other authority to ask about permits to have and keep Josie was that I was told that the law said she would have to be put down if she could not be released, so I gave them a miss.

We now had to reconsider our retirement plans which included a 4WD and caravan to hit the road but we thought travelling with a possum who thought she was a kid (so did we) might be a little hard in caravan parks so with a stroke of genius we decided an off-road camper trailer was the way to go. We became the proud owners of a Pioneer camper and did a few trips to secluded fishing and camping locations which Josie thought was magic. She would grab any smallish fish I caught and "protect" me from these flopping strange things. She would stand on the bow of our tinny like a pointer dog as we ran our crab pots. She really did enjoy our trips away.

She would be in my shirt when we went to town, my wife did the shopping and we would stay in the car but when I had to buy "mans" stuff Josie would be in my shirt and if she was noticed she would revell in any attention, especially from kids. At times a quick dash in to buy a filter for the car turned into an hour. She really did know she was special and would pose for the camera and allow people to pat her, not once did she nip anyone but on occasions if I failed to heed her need for the toilet she would do her thing much to the delight of any kids who were present at the time.

When Josie was 2 years old a family member presented us with an orphaned male brushtail who was about 6 months old. This little bloke was very traumatised as his mother had been killed by dogs on a golf course. Talk about a special needs kid, Fred as we named him was very clingy for months and is still very timid.

I must mention here that up until Josie was 2 years old we tried 7 times to release her at varying times of her cycle but she would not have a bar of being a "real" possum. Fred has always been free to come and go but on the two occasions he left home he came back very hungry and sorry looking, the only time his cage is closed is when we know there are dingos in the area or we are away for the day.

Everything apart from my health was going well until Friday September 25 when we got a phone call from my mother in law telling us that acting on information (don't you just love it?) the RSPCA were taking Fred and I had 2 hours to surrender Josie. I will not repeat what I said but it included the fact that if not returned Fred would die from stress very quickly. Josie had already sensed my stress and was cuddling very close to me. Josie and I went into hiding but not before I contacted the local Rockhampton newspaper and met them in an isolated place, like a criminal. They did the story which was published on the Saturday generating unbelievable support from the public for Josie and myself (see links at end).

Friday night was spent up in the state forest as was Saturday and Sunday. Josie would not eat and I could not so it was a very uncomfortable weekend for us both. While we were in hiding, the local wildlife carers were busy letting NPWS and RSPCA know that their action would kill Fred and he should be returned immediately.

I got a call on my mobile on Monday morning from a wonderful lady telling me Fred was on his way home and Josie and I could come home. All carers will understand this next part of the saga, as my stress level fell and my tears eased my little Josie gave me a big wet kiss, cuddled even closer and went to sleep. The transformation was unreal, animal magic.

Unfortunately the ending of this story is not so happy as my beautiful little friend died at 1.30pm on Sunday 6th of December. Even though she calmed down after the terrible incident she and Fred went through she was never as calm as before this garbage happened. I have had wonderful support from the carers in the area and have joined one group. They all agree that the stress Josie went through was why she is no longer with me. Of course only an autopsy would prove the cause but I would not allow that to happen.

After Fred was returned I had to hand feed him and sat in his cage with him for hours letting him know he was okay. Hopefully things will turn out well for him.

To this day I still do not know the reason why the RSPCA was called or why NPWS became involved. These "public servants" would not know a feral pig from a bower bird and when confronted they have to be non commital for fear of being seen to actually make a comment off their own bat and therefore rock the good ship NPWS. Their efforts would be better directed toward the bird smugglers and the people trading off the misery of our wildlife instead of giving fair dinkum animal carers a hard time and wasting tax dollars on witch hunts.

On a happier note I now have 2 young possums about 9 months old, one an orphan and a little female who was burnt in the recent fires in our area. They are both doing well and will be released as soon as there is enough food out in the bush to sustain them.

In ending my story I would like to say that the time Josie and I had together was an absolute privilege, a relationship built on respect, trust and most of all LOVE.

Raoul

To get in touch with Raoul email him at rharvey [AT] cqnet.com.au
Please share your 'Josie' stories with us by commenting in the box below.

P.S. Check out the newspaper articles below - the comments of supportive people below the article show the true heart of where wildlife carers are coming from.

http://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/story/2009/09/26/raouls-possum-magic/

http://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/story/2009/09/28/josie-is-still-on-the-run/

http://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/story/2009/10/06/possum-carer-raoul-takes-on-his-new-charge

http://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/story/2009/09/29/beady-eyed-freds-back-now-for-josie/

Comments

Just goes to show how stupid NAT Parks&Wildlife are,they havent got a clue,stick to protecting sand dunes that is their limit

A perfect example of people keeping animals for their own pleasure, and ending up creating a weird creature that is a disgrace to its kind. If this was an orangutan or a chimpanzee everybody would be jumping up and down and demanding the creature be taken off them, and rightly so.

What a misinformed comment, Josie was not in any way "weird",she just did not want to leave. Perhaps you have the same solution as NPWS and that is to kill any animal that does not fit a criteria drawn up by people who just don't know any thing about animals. I wonder how much of your time and money you have put into the care of our Wildlife. I think the only weird creature is you Dave. Have a lovely day.

Raoul Harvey.

Josie became a 'weird creature, a disgrace to her kind'? Why weird Dave? Any more weird than a dog, cat or bird that is domesticated and loved by humans? Animals have so much to teach us and are so much more morally evolved than humans. You might like to try becoming a wildlife carer yourself, or even getting yourself a companion animal, Dave, so you can learn what it is like to love and be loved by an animal. Or even to learn what love is....which I doubt you do.
Raoul is a very special man who gave his all because Josie was unreleasable. She would have died in the wild. Did you even read the article? He tried to do the right thing by Josie. If only more people had the compassion of this man our wildlife would have a chance.

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I do think, practically, that possums are much better pets than cats and dogs in our country. You could have a wide variety of relationships with them, transitioning from mostly indoor through to occasional social visits. The point is that they are adapted to the country, can be free, but we can also be friends with them.

Obviously I am not talking about caging them or giving them possum science diets - or entering them in possum shows!

I suspect that the reason that some of our state governments (somewhere on this site it says that Queensland outlaws almost all native pets, which isn't the case in Victoria) don't want us to form the same loyalty to our indigenous animals as we have for cats and dogs, or they would never be able to carry out the massacres, road-kills and dispossessions from native habitat that they seem currently to be hell-bent on carrying out.

I know that the AWPC is against keeping native animal 'pets', but it isn't against native animal associations, where you have a friendly relationship with a local animal or help injured wildlife or raise ophaned young. And I recently caught the glimpse of a bandicoot which was being pre-released in a lovely fenced in vegetable patch in Queensland after a few horrendous years in a cage, kept by an old lady, where it had become very fat. It was very wary of being captured again.

I would never put an indigenous animal in a cage unless it was for its own protection, temporarily. And people who put birds in cages are the absolute pits.

I think that encouraging people to substitute relationships with native animals (and possums and bats are obvious easy ones in the suburbs - along with parrots - is a powerful way to kick start some awareness of nature in the wider community and a movement to defend native animal rights and needs.

Also, the restrictions on dogs and the curfewing of cats are making keeping those animals a miserable endeavour. We need to carve a renewed relationship with native fauna, bushland and gardens.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist

Traditional modern society regard pets as indoor and or backyard lap or companion animals. If humans started respecting animals as independent wild creatures like possums, then the lap and companion thing would be lost, but the respect for animals as independent creatures would be learnt.

Human culture has had animals as pets for many generations, so the habit will die hard. Lap pets are like keeping a tree as a Bonsai. But letting lap pets roam the native environment is like keeping a fox as a pet with no fencing.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885
Australia

Hi Sheila, Very well put and if Dave had bothered to read Josie's story I mention "respect". I believe that any relationship if it is with a fellow human or an animal it must start with respect. Josie was never forced to do anything she did not want to do, whether it was going for a ride on the mower or a fishing trip,if she wasn't interested she was never forced.Until people are fortunate enough to be able to raise any animal it is extremely hard to put into words the bond, the love and the sharing that develop as the relationship grows. I was asked if I would change anything if I could and the only thing would be that I would join a Wildlife group at the start but not because I would have a document saying I was a licenced carer it would be because I have met so many wonderful people and in this short time learnt so much. Dave go meet some local carers it will enrich your life but be warned we are all a little "different".

Raoul Harvey

The story of josie has quite touched me and very reflective of my own experience with Brushtail Possums. I am in the area which was nearly totally destroyed by the black saturday bushfires where many native animals were killed, displaced which has led to their death or suffered very severe and painful injuries from burns, eg "Sam" the koala. Many of the native animal carers in this area also had their properties destroyed and in some cases lost many animals let alone being in a position to be able to accept more. I took on the care of some brushtail possums, and have found that it has been one of the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Brushtail possums can and will bond with humans by their own choice and will form very close relationships with you. I saved 7 animals that were victims of these fires, five of which rehabilitated into the wild but two of the possums stayed with me did so by"THEIR" choice, they were quite free to return to the wild if they wished to do so. The stupid comments made by you Dave shows you are the one that has the problem because the only freak animal here is you, stick to hugging trees Dave, you know more about doing that than you do about possums. Because of my efforts seven animals are now alive that would not be and in all probability they would have suffered slow horrible deaths, What a horrible person I must be to stop this from happening!!!. What is the difference between a dog or a cat loving its owner or a possum loving its owner. Possums have very individual personalities and like a dog or a cat they respond to affection, they fret when your not there and they will stress severely if you try to separate them from their owner. Here in Victoria the same bone headed mentality exists where the belief of the so called experts is that the possum is better off being put down rather than live with a human owner but as least here in Victoria unlike Queensland, some latitude is allowed for licences to be issued possess these delightful animals under some tight regulations. The look on the face of children to able see a possum close-up and to be able to give her some food or a little pat on the head (which my possums love by the way) and have them responds by giving child a little lick or a snuggle with their little pink noses. Yes Dave, This is so harmful and a real exploitation of a native animal and real danger of teaching children appreciation these animals. In conclusion I am not advocating that anybody goes out and catch a possum with the aim as having it as a pet, If you want a pet get a cat or dog, in all likelyhood if you were to pick up a wild brushtail possum it would tear you to pieces, Possums are very intelligent animals that learn very quickly and on warm summer nights certainly entertain with there antics, there is no rule that fits all but please let some common sense prevail. Enjoy these wonderful and unique animals.

Thank you, Laurie. What a lovely story.

Hello Laurie,
It is apparent you too have been touched by Possum Magic,I need say no more except good on you. Raoul {Josies Pet}

Oh shove it.

[Ed. Not sure what this comment writer wanted to shove. Could be they had difficulty making a comment or that they don't like possums or that they don't disapprove of rearing an injured possum and are responding to Kimble's comment. Published in the spirit of non-censorship and mystery.]

Just keep the possums away from New Zealanders.
..fur gloves, socks, beanies, hats, scarves. knitwear, accessories,

Backward, just like Laosian bear treatment.

Tigerquoll
Suggan Buggan
Snowy River Region
Victoria
Australia

Thanks, I just enjoyed reading the editor's comment, and good to see he is still playful.

I have come to know the brush tail possums in a neighboring suburban park through trying to prevent the local council installing exclusion bands on all the palm trees. We were unsuccessful in the attempt and the council's actions have deprived the possums of habitat in the palm tree tops where they had lived for about a century with no apparent damage to the palms nor to other trees in the park. I find the possums to be timid nervous creatures who are very alert to possible danger and always on the lookout. They will approach people with whom they are familiar. Some of them will permit a human to stroke them and one even jumped on my shoulder. In all the time I have visited the park I have never been been scratched or nipped by a possum except by accident. They have have extremely sharp strong claws which help them climb and cling to branches and sharp teeth as well. I don't think they would gratuitously pick a fight but their teeth and claws make excellent defense weapons. It is safe to touch them if they are occupied (eating) and you just stroke them on the back. I have even given them a massage. To me they are very endearing animals but their nocturnal habit is a bit limiting as far as their role as pets is concerned. It is better to accept them as fellow inhabitants or Australia to leave space for them and to consider them in avoiding clashes with our dogs. We will sometimes meet them at those times when our diurnal and nocturnal worlds intersect.

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Raoul, that's a great story - you gave a possum that would have had zero chance of life, an interesting and fulfilling one in return. I'm glad she gave you so much pleasure, and I think the feeling was mutual. They are gorgeous creatures, with very individual personalities - incredibly unintelligent in some ways, and very smart in others (like all marsupials, they have extremely small brain size per their body mass, but what brainpower they do have, they use extremely well). I hope you get another possum in your life, and I'm sure you'll care for it in return. Bureaucrats are bureaucrats, and you get alot of naive ideologues in these government organisations. I can see what they're trying to do, and respect it, but sometimes a little flexibility is needed, particularly when there is a close, caring relationship between humans and animals.

Had to share this on our page, dedicated to possums (don't judge too harsh, please) - https://www.facebook.com/ILovePossum
Wonderful, honest and moving - thank you!

This story is very touching. It gives me hope for all the critters out there and reminds me why I remain an unofficial wildlife carer. If the powers that be knew what animals I have, and have had, pass through my hands, they would blow a gasket! This way, people can always drop in with the sick and injured and know that they will be loved and cared for to the absolute best of my abilities...and no-one will come take them and kill them simply because they no longer fit in!