Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Opossums in the Neighborhood

Summer is a time when we see more opossums in the neighborhood. We talked to naturalist Leslie Gordon at the Natural History Museum of LA County about these fascinating animals. Here’s Petey the Opossum, who lives at NHM where he’s a huge hit every time he comes out, according to staff. Here he is on a walk outside at NHM. (photo from NHM by Justine McGarry)

This story has been updated to let readers know the next day Losey found the opossum alive and well under the pot. 

Windsor Square resident Kathy Losey was so frantic when her Standard Poodle Francis captured an opossum he’d found in the backyard, she called our local fire station for help. After several hours and repeated efforts to bribe Francis with treats, he finally came running to greet three firefighters from Station 29 when he heard them arrive.

Losey told us the opossum encounter started several hours earlier when her two dogs, Francis, the Standard Poodle and Kramer, a Pomeranian,  cornered an opossum on the lower level of  Losey’s terraced backyard on Van Ness Avenue. This was not the first time the Loseys’ dogs had “captured” an opossum, but usually Losey was able to call them off and bring them inside, allowing the opossum to retreat.

“I tried for 3 1/2 hours to get my Standard Poodle inside. He had cornered an opossum and was barking like crazy,” Losey told the Buzz. “I tried everything to stop him barking and to try and distract him…throwing chicken and lunch meat across the garden in hopes that he would leave the critter and allow me a second to scoop it up with my rubber gloves, newspaper and paper bag. I have done this successfully in the past. I finally got a leash on him but he is too strong and would not leave the opossum.”

In desperation, Losey called her security company, then LAPD, and finally ended up with LAFD.

“I was tearful at this point, and they felt sorry for me,” Losey explained in her social media post. “About 5 minutes later, three burly firemen came to my rescue. They hadn’t been given much information and were curious why I needed help with a dog. I gave them a quick rundown and told them I had thrown a big garden pot over the opossum and then covered that with 2 garden chairs. I knew the opossum was unbelievably still alive as I heard it hissing. All this time I thought it was dead. The guys asked if the dog would bite, “only if you tried to get the possum from him,” I said!

“We all started walking down to the lower yard and up bounded Francis,” explained Losey. “He loves company and thought we had guests. We did…the LA Fire Department!  I was somewhat embarrassed as they didn’t have to do anything but appear. Hopefully they believed that I had done my best to get Francis to leave the critter and come inside. As one of the guys said as he was out the door, ‘that was a first!”

A grateful Losey finally got to bed at 1 a.m. with her dogs safely inside. She told us she is planning to bring pizza and some treats to her new favorite guys at the Fire Station 29. The opossum was found alive and well under the pot the next morning…and just ambled off, according to Losey.


Francis, a Standard Poodle, refused to leave the opossum he found in his backyard. (photo from Kathy Losey)


We shared Losey’s story with Leslie Gordon, Senior Manager, Living Collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County who said she often hears stories of like around this time of year, when the marsupials born in the spring start making their way into world to find food and shelter. According to Gordon, opossums are actually very shy and if given space, they will go on their way.  If Losey had been able to convince Francis to leave the opossum, it most likely would have left the back yard as soon it had the chance.

“Playing dead is actually a physiological reaction stimulated by fear, where the animal actually faints,” explained Gordon. “They are not “playing,” they really do faint and they will stay in that state as long as they are afraid.”

Similarly,  people are often afraid of opossums because when we encounter them we are startled, and so is the opossum.

“When startled, an opossum will open its mouth and bare its many, many teeth, (opossums have more teeth than most mammals) which can bite through bone so they can eat the marrow…though they are extremely reluctant to bite, preferring to eat carrion, or road kill, ” explained Gordon. In their native habitat, opossums eat a lot of ticks, so humans in the Midwest view them more favorably.

Opossums are not native to California, explained Gordon. They were brought over the Rocky Mountains in the 1890s for fur and food. They have found a niche within our urban ecosystem. Opossums are considered a mesopredator, (a medium size predator that can also be prey) similar to raccoons, so they probably provide some competition for raccoons.  But since there’s plenty of trash to go around, a little competition for the raccoons can be a good thing, since raccoons can be a problem especially if people feed them, explained Gordon.

Opossums are not likely to carry rabies, according to Gordon. They have a low body temperature and are less sensitive to the diseases that can harm us or our pets.

“Bring your pet food inside,” urged Gordon, who stressed that people should never feed wildlife because the animals become acclimated to living near humans, often making their homes in familiar places like under porches or garages.


This very frightened baby opossum was seen in Buzz Co-Publisher Liz Fuller’s back yard in 2020. (photo from Liz Fuller)


“Opossums are actually very cute when they are little,” said Gordon. “When they go out on their own, at less than six months old, they are often only as big as your hand, and their life span is usually just three years. Even after her ordeal, Losey agreed, saying the animals can be kind of cute and they really are relatively harmless, though she said she has seen them taunt her dogs as they scamper up trees and fences and telephone wires above her backyard.


Petey lives at the Natural History Museum as part of its Living Collections. Here’s a photo of Petey when he was young. (photo from NHM by Justine McGarry)


If you find an opossum that needs help, there are professionals who can help. Gordon suggested contacting LA County Animal Control and ask for a wildlife rehabber or search the internet for one near you. If you want to learn more about these amazing animals, you can visit Gordon at NHM, or follow NHM on Instagram.


Petey the Opossum from the NHM’s Instagram (photo by Nicole Valencia)


And one more thing: opossums and possums are actually different animals, though people often use the names interchangeably. According to Nicole Valencia, Animal Care Specialist at NHM, the main difference is where you find them. Opossums are native to Canada and North America, but possums are native to Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and China. Valencia is partial to opossums, which she thinks are much cuter than possums, who are slightly smaller and more brown in color.


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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