Shari Kassalias, a dog rescuer and opossum rehabilitation specialist, was more than happy to help with three orphaned opossums who were in need of foster care. Her job would be to nurse them back to health until they were old enough to be released back into the wild.
And for two of the three orphans, that's exactly what happened. But the third little guy, named Opie, had a whole different set of plans for his future!
From the start, Opie made it clear that he wasn't going anywhere. "Opie was so sweet he demanded to be held. He climbed up my sleeve," Kassalias said.
Opie adored Kassalias and bonded quickly with her. He would groom her by licking her to show his affection. Kassalias knew she had to make a decision: either cut off contact with Opie or make him a permanent part of her family. She decided to let Opie have his way.
For over two years, Opie lived a happy life with Kassalias and her husband in South Carolina. He also made friends with the rest of Kassalias' family: an elderly Boston terrier, an older pit bull, a 25-year-old tortoise, and a foster dog.
Aside from living the life traveling around on his owner's shoulder and visiting with Santa, Opie also had a day job.
He was registered with the USDA so he could appear in public to educate people about his species as North America's only marsupial.
With Opie by her side, Kassalias was able to tell their audiences how opossums will eat the pests in backyards, and that they "appreciate an abandoned hole under a tree log, a spot in the back of the garage or an open area to your basement. I love that they give back to nature instead of taking from it. They are gentle even when injured."
Opie's fame translated to his public appearances and even his own Facebook page. "He is an amazing ambassador," said Kassalias.
This unique opossum's last birthday party --- his 2nd --- was an all-out event to raise money for The Opossum's Pouch Rescue. Opie enjoyed a special cake made of his favorite blueberries, bananas, and carrots. Hundreds of pounds of food were donated along with blankets and other pet supplies.
Sadly, opossums have a lifespan of roughly two years, and Kassalias knew that Opie was showing signs of age. "Regardless of how much time I have left with him, I know I have done absolutely everything in my power," said Kassalias. "If his longevity was based on love, he would live to be 100."
This past July, Opie the amazing and loving opossum, passed away of a heart attack. Kassalias was overwhelmed with grief and with gratitude for the number of people who reached out to tell her how much they had loved Opie, too.
Kassalias wrote on Opie's Facebook page:
"I can't thank you all for your heart felt messages, I wish I had the strength to reply individually but my eyes ache from crying but I have read them all and my heart is in a million pieces. Hopefully one day soon I will have the strength to reply to each of them but please know you all mean the world to me at such a devastating time & your beautiful words help ease this broken heart."
Indeed, fly high dear Opie. You touched so many lives during your short time here. Share his sweet story with your friends and family on Facebook.