BUCKHANNON — He just wanted to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins in peace, but a possum had other plans.
It was a windy Wednesday evening, and mayor David McCauley thought his civic duties were done for the day.
McCauley imagined it was finally time to relax, as he breathed a sigh of relief and settled into watch the Pens take on the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. In fact, he was relishing the fact that the Pens were up 4-1 against the Predators as they moved closer toward clinching the coveted Stanley Cup.
That peaceful aura was interrupted abruptly, when McCauley heard a loud crash that emanated from his kitchen. Upon further investigation, he discovered that several framed photos on his kitchen ledge had fallen to the floor.
At first, McCauley wasn’t alarmed. After all, it was probably just the wind from an impending storm blowing in, disrupting the hanging pieces, he figured.
But wind isn’t equipped with a long tail and what McCauley described as “steely eyes, staring menacingly straight through me” to his fellow council members and attendees at Buckhannon City Council’s regular meeting Thursday evening.
An unapologetic, “ginormous,” and “mutant” possum who had, by that time, attached itself to a plant in McCauley’s bay window, the mayor said.
“I hollered for my son … OK, I screamed like a little girl for my son,” the mayor admitted to council.
But his son was nowhere to be found. Then, after desperately dialing his daughter and son-in-law — who didn’t bother to bottle up their laughter at McCauley’s current predicament — the mayor ultimately opted to call the Upshur County Comm Center. The Comm Center immediately dispatched Buckhannon Police officers Sgt. William Courtney and Cpl. D.K. Hissam to McCauley’s Meade Street residence.
Upon their arrival, the mayor escorted Hissam and Courtney — who were struggling to stifle smiles of their own, McCauley noted — into his kitchen, where the three were confronted by the gleaming, globular eyes of the rodent, who was very much alive and not even attempting to, as the saying goes, “play possum.” In an effort to defy capture, the possum leapt from the plant to the ground and holed up behind the mayor’s refrigerator.
“We pulled out the [refrigerator] from the wall, and the monster had secreted itself well into the inner compartment of the back of the refrigerator,” McCauley read in his account. Hissam attempted to snag the possum, but to no avail. That’s when Courtney — who informed McCauley that he had rather long arms — gave it his best shot.
“My job was to poke the possum with a yard stick from the front of the refrigerator, which I undertook like a champ,” the mayor said. Several minutes later, Courtney emerged victorious, having snagged the possum by its tail. Courtney asked the mayor what he would like the officers to do with the animal.
“I first suggested summary execution, but was rebuffed,” McCauley joked. “My second suggestion was to take the creature to a neighboring state. That notion was also rebuffed.”
Courtney calmly suggested the officers simply remove the possum from the mayor’s house and release it outside into the natural world.
McCauley finally acquiesced.
“The creature slowly scurried away looking back with those glow-in-the-dark eyes taunting me with an ‘I’ll be back!’ possum expression,” McCauley said.
The incident inspired the mayor to marvel at the breadth of situations — emergency or otherwise — the city police undertake on a daily basis. He learned that although BPD officers have extricated bats, birds, dogs and even a sizeable swine from citizens’ residences, McCauley’s conundrum was the first involving a possum.
“But, seriously, who’d have thought that our police officers get drafted into animal control matters so routinely?” McCauley said. “I came to appreciate our police in a whole new light as a result of this exercise. Our guys went above and beyond the call of duty, and did it in a good-natured manner.”
The mayor said he routinely thanks individuals who lend him a helping hand with a beer, but given the fact that Courtney and Hissam were still in the midst of their shift, he didn’t feel that would be appropriate. Consequently, at Thursday night’s council meeting, McCauley announced the beginning of a new award to be annually bestowed upon employees who exceed the expectations of their jobs, appropriately dubbed the Awesome Possum Award.
And the first recipients of this year’s inaugural rodent-inspired tribute?
None other than Hissam and Courtney.
Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory gave props to his officers.
“I think the new award gives us all something to shoot for,” he joked.
But seriously, police officers are only humans — humans with fears of snakes and bats and rats and even tarantula spiders, which Lt. Doug Loudin had the unfortunate luck of removing from a woman’s hand during one call, Gregory said. And animal control matters aren’t something the state police academy prepares one for, Gregory added, recalling a time when he was charged with catching a bat that had lodged itself in a woman’s chandelier with a fishnet.
“I don’t like bats because they’re just like rats with wings,” the chief said of the incident. “It’s definitely never a dull moment. We’ve dealt with several types of animals over the years, and we’ve had our fair share of them.”
Whether the perpetrator is a bear passing through town, a pot-bellied pig that jumps out of its owner’s vehicle and runs around city hall or stolen chickens that were placed in someone else’s car, where they promptly defecated everywhere, animals and the people they plague are an ongoing issue for the BPD.
That’s why McCauley may honor Courtney and Hissam with Awesome Possum Award memorabilia at a future date.
“I might get those guys T-shirts,” McCauley said of Courtney and Hissam. “They are part of what makes our community and organization such special things.”