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Underdog Blog

How to handle the aftermath of your dog’s prey drive

Sabrina Ortiz

By Katie Walsh

The minute I heard her bark, I knew something bad had happened.

It was around 9 p.m., and my beagle mix Ginger was out in our backyard for her nightly bathroom break before bedtime. This potty routine is generally unremarkable — we rouse our dogs from snoozing on the couch, send them out for about five minutes to do their business, then scoot them upstairs for a good night’s slumber.

However, for about a week prior to this particular night, something had been bothering Ginger whenever we’d put her outside. From the moment she set a paw pad on our deck, she would run amok back and forth across our parking pad, from one end of our deck to the other, whimpering and snarling and barking. And every time she did this, my brow would furrow and I’d say to my husband, “There’s something under our deck.”

My husband was nonplussed. “Just mice,” he assured me.

But that night, a bark unlike any other I had ever heard her make, a combination of a threatening growl and a shriek, pierced the night air. My husband was closest to the back door, so he immediately set about investigating.

What he found shocked us both: “She killed something out there.”

As it turns out, it wasn’t mice under our deck; it was an opossum. And somehow Ginger had dispatched it.

In all my years of dog ownership, this was not something I had ever experienced, and it totally freaked me out. A million questions whizzed through my brain: Who attacked whom first? Did Ginger get hurt at all in the scuffle? Did the opossum have rabies? What exactly do you do when you’re living in the concrete jungle of a city and you tangle with the wildlife?

I decided to examine Ginger first. I pushed her fur all around so I could see down to her skin. She didn’t appear to have sustained any scratches or bite marks from the opossum, nor did she appear to be in any sort of distress. (Frankly, she seemed proud of herself.) My husband and I cleaned her off with some doggie bath wipes and sent her upstairs.

I called Animal Control next for advice. Even though I was worried, the gentleman who fielded my call was not. He indicated that opossums are not “rabies vectors,” aka species most likely to transmit rabies to other animals and people, but it would be a good idea to follow up with our vet just in case. He also wasn’t concerned about needing to set traps or collect the opossum’s body — in fact, he told us that since the incident happened on private property, we should just put it out with the trash!

So, we cleaned up our parking pad and went to bed, and the next morning I spoke with Dr. Miller at AtlasVet. He had two questions for me: “Did Ginger get scratched or bitten?” and “Did she eat the opossum?” The former was important because she would need an antibiotic if so, and the latter was important because of the possibility the opossum had eaten some type of poison. Luckily, the answer to both questions was no. Dr. Miller said he thought we had nothing to worry about, and told us to keep an eye on her for a few days just in case anything changed.

I tell this story because I think it’s a pretty good case study for what to do if your dog kills a small wild animal. I’m glad we talked to both Animal Control and a vet — had it been any other kind of animal, Animal Control may have told us to do something differently. Had Ginger had any sort of open wound, we would have immediately hopped in the car and booked it to the emergency vet. If she’d eaten it, I’m sure we’d have gone to the emergency vet for that too. I’m happy none of those things took place, but I’ve definitely tucked all this information away on the off-chance something like this ever happens again.

As for us, things have largely gone back to normal around here. Ginger has been back to her old self in the backyard, indicating to me that there are no other opossums living there. But I’d be lying if I told you that when we put her out at night, I don’t stand by the door, waiting to see what other shenanigans she gets into.

I just hope she never gets to a stray cat.