Alaska doesn’t have opossums. But as of last month, Homer had at least one — and its appearance ignited a flurry of excitement in the community on the southern Kenai Peninsula.
The critter arrived about two weeks ago, stowed away in a shipping container from Washington state that was bound for Spenard Builders Supply in Homer, according to Jillian Rogers, director of the city’s animal shelter. Spenard Builders Supply workers called the shelter when they discovered the opossum in the back of the container on March 30, she said Friday.
A shelter staff member called the state Department of Fish and Game for advice. Jason Herreman, assistant area biologist for the Kenai Peninsula, advised the shelter to set out traps to capture the opossum. Not only are the marsupials invasive to Alaska, they’re not legal to own as pets, Herreman said.
“The issue is that we don’t want invasive species in the state because of disease possibilities, because of the effect on native flora and fauna,” he said.
According to Rogers, the opossum was caught in one of the traps, but escaped. At that point, she said the shelter ended its involvement and left it up to Fish and Game to deal with the invasive mammal.
But it didn’t end there. After posts on social media by the animal shelter and the Homer Police Department this week, word spread quickly about the opossum, and Homerites became invested in — and heavily divided over — its fate.
There is an opossum in town. It came up in a shipping container. Fish and Game are aware, and yes, if caught it will be...Posted by Alaska Mindful Paws - Homer Animal Shelter on Thursday, April 13, 2023
More than 30 posts about the critter were circulating on a local Facebook page, Homer Communications, by Friday evening. They ranged from lighthearted jokes, photos and memes to public service announcements about the dangers of invasive species, and the hashtag #FreeGrubby appeared more than once. The opossum has been christened “Grubby” by locals since one of the last places it was spotted was near the police department, on Grubstake Avenue, Rogers said.
One social media user posted a flyer bearing several photos of opossums, emblazoned with the words “Grubby for Mayor!” across the top. Another post listing several details about opossums began, “About Grubby ... fun facts!”
WANTED: Name: Grubby "Squeaks" Greyback Age: Don't know Weight: Not much Height: About an Alley Cats size Eyes:...Posted by Homer Police Department on Friday, April 14, 2023
Even a few businesses got in on the fun. A local ax-throwing business, Homer Axe House, posted on its Facebook page offering a 20% discount this weekend for customers who mentioned the “Homer Opossum.”
Catherine Laky with AC/DC Electrical Supply said she woke up Friday morning and was drinking her coffee when she came across the barrage of opossum-related posts on Facebook. Then a thought struck her.
“Oh my gosh, we have game cameras,” she said. “People are trying to run around to find this animal.”
So AC/DC Electrical Supply posted to its social media offering a flash sale on its game camera when customers mention “SaveGrubby.”
Laky said she doesn’t know if all the excitement is because the town is still in the throes of winter, or because an opossum showing up is such a novelty.
“Overall it’s just been kind of a fun thing for everybody in town to take part of,” she said.
[How do you get a moose out of an Anchorage medical facility? Very carefully.]
Jennie Sellers moved to Homer just a year ago from Florida. When she saw the posts circulating online, she said got the idea to boost her business, where she makes custom T-shirts, coasters and other items, by offering “Free Grubby” shirt designs. Sellers said she first posted on Thursday evening, and less than 24 hours later she had 20 orders for the shirts.
“I’ll be busy next week,” she said.
The major concerns with the opossum’s presence in town, Herreman said, are that it could pass diseases to local wildlife and that it could prey on native birds. He said the best-case scenario is that the animal is found and trapped so Fish and Game can dispose of it, or that it dies on its own.
But plenty of people don’t agree with that assessment.
“The community has become completely divided,” said Rogers, the shelter director.
For her part, Sellers said she wants whatever’s best for the creature, but that she doesn’t want it to be put down. Rogers said she’s been fielding nonstop calls about the animal, including from people asking if it can be transferred to a zoo or rescue organization. At the end of the day, it’s under Fish and Game’s purview, she said.
Herreman said Fish and Game is not actively looking for the animal, but will put it down if it’s found and turned in to the agency. Another concern, he said, is that it could be a female opossum carrying young.
“The last thing we want is to establish a population,” he said.
The hubbub over Grubby hearkens back to another animal situation a few years ago that drew strong reaction from Homer residents. In 2019, the state Department of Environmental Conservation evicted a tubby cat named Stormy from the general store in Fritz Creek where it had been living, as the feline’s presence violated food sanitation rules. The community immediately rallied around the cat and called for it to stay, though it was eventually re-homed.
The opossum’s arrival has inspired similar enthusiasm in Homer. On Friday, one Facebook user shared an image that superimposed an opossum onto a well-known Kachemak Bay mountain peak, and another posted a poem about Grubby.
“Homer is a wonderfully weird, quirky, infuriating, beautiful community,” Rogers said.