Bayside possum eludes Animal Control, not cops

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It was darting among cars and baring its teeth at passersby. But no matter who came near, it would not surrender its position on the Bayside street.

Walter Kowsh, a Flushing resident and animal lover, called Animal Control after he saw a large possum trying to cross 53rd Avenue at 207th Street in Bayside Friday.

Thinking the normally nocturnal animal might be rabid because it was out in the daytime and had lunged at a passing collie, Kowsh called Animal Control’s Brooklyn center only to be told that the center did not deal with wild animals in the street.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t pick up this possum because it is possibly a rabid animal,” said Kowsh, president of the Cedar Grove Homeowners Association of Queensboro Hill.

Not knowing what else to do, Kowsh called the office of City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and the 109th Police Precinct’s emergency services unit for help.

Like Kowsh, northeast Queens residents who want to know what to do with a loose animal on their block may be in for some confusion.

The non-profit Center for Animal Care and Control, which contracts with the city to pick up sick and injured stray dogs and cats, does not usually do the same for wildlife such as raccoons or possums.

But if a wild animal is hit by a car, the agency would step in and remove it, said Stephanie Easter, director of dispatch at Animal Control’s Brooklyn center.

On the other hand, if a wild animal appears sick, residents can rent or purchase traps at animal shelters and release the animals into parks themselves, said Easter.

“We get a lot of situations in which people say the animal is sick,” said Easter, alarms that often turn out to be false and therefore not the best use of the shelter system’s time.

Adding to the confusion, if a dog or cat is on the loose and appears dangerous or is behaving aggressively, the police are often called because they can respond much more quickly than the cash-strapped Animal Control, said Easter.

“It’s very hard to chase a loose cat,” said Easter, adding that despite popular belief to the contrary, the center cannot handle every call involving an animal whether domestic or wild.

Avella seemed surprised to hear that Animal Control did not remove the possum. “It’s my understanding that with any animal that is diseased, they’ll go out,” said Avella.

In the end, Officer Anthony Lombardi of the 111th Precinct said two officers from the 111th picked up the possum, which climbed into a box without needing to be trapped or tranquilized, and dropped it off at Animal Control’s Manhattan headquarters.

But the shelter did not want the possum “because there was no proof the animal had rabies.” Lombardi said he did not know what became of the critter.

So what should people do when an animal is on the loose?

Easter advised residents who believe the animal presents an immediate danger to call their local police precinct.

In other cases, she suggested people call Animal Control’s dispatch center at (718) 649-8600 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. After 8 p.m. and on weekends, she said a voice mail message would direct callers to a shelter staff member who could give instructions on how to deal with animal until midnight.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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