Updated: January 31, 2013 6:20AM
Dr. Wallace: We have a cat that sometimes doesn’t finish eating all the food in her bowl in the backyard, and the uneaten food attracts opossums and raccoons.
My brother thinks raccoons are cool, but says opossums are part of the rat family and carry a lot of diseases. When he sees an opossum in the yard at night, he chases it and tries to kill it by throwing rocks at it. I don’t think opossums are rats, and I don’t want my brother killing them. I think they’re cute and that they were put on earth for a purpose. What’s the right answer?
Katie, Riverside, Calif.
Katie: Every couple of years I get inquiries about this wonderful animal. Let me set your brother straight. Opossums are not related to rats. Some think they are because of their long, rat-like tail.
Actually, opossums are North America’s only marsupial (meaning the mother has a pouch), and they eat all types of nuisance insects, including cockroaches and beetles, as well as snails. They’re called “nature’s sanitary engineers” and present a far lower health risk to humans than your cat does.
Please encourage your brother not to throw rocks at this valuable but defenseless creature. We humans must respect the right of all “critters” to live in harmony with us.
Please make sure your parents read your letter and my response. They must make sure your brother stops this uncivilized behavior immediately!
Write to Dr. Wallace