Spikes, tights and fairy lights: a bit of lockdown lightheartedness

One thing about the Covid-19 lockdowns (we are in lockdown take two in Melbourne) is that the dog child and I are confined to barracks every evening. And in winter that means possum o’clock begins around 6 pm when the pesky little critters emerge from their daytime resting spots and start scampering about, taunting my spaniel Bertie by using my fence as a runway, and me, by chomping on a few shrubs into the bargain.

possum-nibbled shrub

Bertie is by nature a hunting dog so the appearance of these squirrel-like nocturnal visitors drives him into a frenzy of frustration.  Whenever I hear him squeaking and shrieking, I dash out to find him hopping around on his back legs, hurling himself at the fence. Safely perched at the top of the trellis, the possums stare complacently at Bertie as if to say ‘bark all you want, you’ll never get us.’ Schadenfreude in action.

I’m not so worried about the noise of his barking, although it is pretty disruptive, but more concerned that his efforts to scale the fence are damaging his already stiff back. Even as a pup he’d sometimes limp a bit in his left hip. And he’s always sat with his right leg sticking out at an angle – presumably to relieve the stiffness on the other side. While an X-ray showed he doesn’t have hip dysplasia as such, there is wear and tear in the back and hip area. And if you try and massage that area or apply pressure, he’s not impressed.

Having said that, noise abatement has been part of my game plan. For the last year I’ve had pesky noise-phobic neighbours – renters rather than owners, thank Goodness. The first time I met them the conversation was ALL about them, their health, trials and tribulations.  As if in warning, they said they hoped my dog didn’t bark, and that in previous houses they’d had to write to the Council about dogs that yapped all day. Bertie does have an impressive bark but it’s never continuous, more a response to certain stimuli – a bird on the roof, a possum, a knock at the door etc.

As I write this, I’ve decided to devote a future post to these crazy neighbours who have applied an accusatory and forensic approach to each and every noise – be it my heating, a sporadic Bertie bark, the neighbour’s air-con or occasional loud parties, construction noise or the guy over the other side playing music. They write letters, they climb up on ladders to peer over the fence, and they throw eggs. They are due to vacate – after much wrangling and a VCAT case – in August ­, so watch out for my celebratory blog then. Stressful at the time but amusing and cathartic looking back…

Suffice it to say I’ve had ample motivation to do my utmost to deter the possums and divert them to someone else’s garden. A few years back I installed a sonic possum deterrent– it may have helped for a while but I reckon the possums grew accustomed to it. I re-positioned it recently and at one point turned up the volume. Then I got calls from Mrs Noise Phobe asking if I could hear a strange whirring noise around midnight. Had I got a new possum deterrent? I denied everything, but did turn it down. The minute they move out, I’m going to crank it up again!

Then a friend recommended solar-powered coloured fairy lights as a way of keeping possums away. I duly trooped off to Bunnings, and my hero brother helped me string them along the fence. Clearly, there’s got to be enough solar gain in the day to keep them flashing at night (oh yes, I have set them to epileptic fit-inducing flash). Still the little buggers scampered across the fence, driving Bertie berserk. Next, I resorted to Old Wives’ Tale remedies and, keeping some hair from Bertie’s last groom, stuffed it into a stocking which I suspended from the fence. That only compounded the problem as he mistook the dangling black shape for a possum, and barked at it!

Some nights if I caught the possums red-handed in a stand-off with Bertie, I’d train the hose on them or poke them with a long pole. And please don’t go Animal Rights-y on me. I’m not harming them, simply encouraging them to hang out elsewhere. Suffice it to say, none of the above proved to be sustainable solutions. Back to Dr Google. This time I invested in humane possum spikes 2cm high and 4.5cm wide, which I positioned at strategic points along the fence. That didn’t work either. Perhaps if I had covered the whole fence it would have been more successful, but, then again, the possums didn’t seem to mind to walking on then.

Back to the drawing board and to the possum spike company, who were only too happy to cash in on trying to solve what is clearly my (insert marketing speak) ‘pain point’ as a customer. Taking advantage of the end of year sale, I ordered a different type of spike. Tall, resembling 6-inch icicles, and made of Perspex, these are the real deal. My brother, bless him, came over and put them along the entire length of the fence. For the first few nights it was quieter. But possums are resourceful – I reckon there’s a movie in this along the lines of Wallace and Gromit’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit or Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox – and, soon after, I spotted a possum crawling along my fence underneath the spikes, and another using the side of the spikes as a climbing frame.

I reckon they got in through the gaps down the side of the fence adjoining the noise phobes’ garden – so I have strung up netting and filled in the gaps. It is quieter on the Western Front now. Bertie can still hear the possums on the other side of the fence but he’s less frenzied when he’s no longer eye-balling them. It’s only a matter of time, of course, before they discover they can leap from my other neighbour’s gutter onto my shed and along the fence underneath the spikes – but till then we’ll keep on with our spikes, sonic possum deterrent and flashing lights. Never a dull moment over here!

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