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Angry woman releases possum outside Houston City Hall

by Kevin Reece / 11 News

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 6:23 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 3 at 6:49 PM

HOUSTON — Theresa Vandiver took her problem to Houston City Hall on Friday. The problem is that she dropped off that "problem" and let it scurry away to hide under the Christmas tree installed for the Mayor’s tree-lighting ceremony on Friday night. And she’s promising to do it again if she has to.

Her problem? Possums.

"They’re tearing up my house, they’re upsetting my dog, and they don’t do much for me," Vandiver said.
Her 100-year-old home in the Heights has become a frequent hiding place for the large marsupials. They burrow under the sub-floor of her home and claw and scratch their way into her walls.

Vandiver says she bought two animal traps and has captured at least 50 opossums over the last decade. Each time she would call BARC, the City of Houston’s animal control agency, and an officer would come to her house, retrieve the animal and set it free somewhere else.

"They pick it up off of my porch and they take it away," Vandiver said of the process she was expecting to happen again on Friday morning.

When Vandiver captured her latest quarry and called BARC, she said they told her they don’t consider possums dangerous so they stopped picking them up four months ago. They told her to set the possum free at the location of her choosing.

"Oh pretty mad," Vandiver said of her reaction. "And so I said, ‘In the meantime, what am I supposed to do? Set it free!’"

The location of her choosing was City Hall.

"They said set it free," she told an 11 News photographer outside City Hall Friday morning. Vandiver took the trap to the green picket fence surrounding the Christmas tree installed for the Friday night tree-lighting ceremony. The animal growled and  clung to the wire of the trap as she tried to shake it loose. Eventually, it scurried away and sat motionless near the picket fence, occasionally growling at people passing by.

"I’ve always heard if you have a problem, take it to city hall. So that’s what I did," said Vandiver after releasing the possum. "As much as we pay in property taxes and everything we should have the personnel to be able to pick up one stinkin’ possum!"

"If she was trying to make a point, I think it was irresponsibly done," said Christopher Newport ,the spokesman for BARC.

Newport met us next to the Christmas tree hours after Vandiver released the possum. And our conversation took place just minutes after animal control workers made a not-so-surprising discovery. The animal was still cowering amid the large decorative Christmas presents at the base of the tree. An animal control officer picked up the possum by the tail and carried it away to be released farther away from downtown.

"The reason it’s not a high priority for us is that it’s not a high safety risk at all," Newport said of the recent decision to stop picking up trapped possums from Houston residents.

On any given day, BARC has an average of seven officers to respond to animal control issues in the city’s more than 600 square miles. Priority is given to dangerous animals.

BARC said it collects more than 3,000 bats a year in response to resident complaints because of the danger of rabies. Raccoons and skunks are still on BARC’s collection list because of the same threat.

Strapped for resources, BARC says it had to stop picking up possums and advises homeowners to deal with the problem on their own the same way they would handle any other rodent problem.

"Their job is huge," Newport said of animal control officers. "And the resources that the city has to do that job are limited."

Meanwhile Vandiver said she will keep trapping possums as they arrive at her home. And she’s considering releasing them all at city hall.

"And if I get the mayor’s address I’ll send her one for Christmas."