Rocky Balboa – A Pandemic Success Story

Deb Near, ACP Supervisor

We all know the story of Rocky Balboa, right? The underdog who had little to no chance of winning? And he didn’t win, not at first. But neither did he give up. And neither did the people who cared about him. In the face of setbacks and disappointments, he finally triumphed. Defying all expectations, he beat the odds and became a champion.

Oh, did you think we were talking about the fictional boxer, portrayed by Sylvester Stallone? Sorry, no. We’re talking about the journey of a tiny baby opossum who was at the brink of death when he was found. And through the miracle of expert care by a professional rehabber, along with his own stubborn will to survive, he grew up into a healthy, happy adult opossum living his best life in the wilds of Texas.

Let us take you on his journey.

This little guy was found in someone’s yard, alone with no mama or siblings. After a couple of days he hadn’t moved much from his position, so the owner reached out for help on Facebook. An ex-staff volunteer of TWRC saw the plea and offered to help. This was on March 31, 2020, just a few days after TWRC had shut down due to COVID. This person picked up the baby and delivered him to Heather, one of TWRC’s Animal Care Program managers, for home rehabilitation.

He was not in good shape at all when he was delivered into Heather’s capable hands. Only weighing 32 grams, it was believed that developmentally he should be between 50 - 60 grams. At this size babies need to be fed every 3 hours, for a total of six feedings per day. Along with being severely emaciated, he also had signs of severe dehydration such as sunken eyes and tail rings. He was cold and lethargic; there was bruising on his ears, and dirt in his mouth and nose. Another sign of his dehydration was that he expressed very little urine, and what little he did was a brownish color when it should have been yellowish or clear. On top of all of this, he suffered from an upper respiratory infection.

The little guy certainly had an uphill battle in front of him!

But even from this inauspicious beginning, he rallied almost immediately. His body temperature was stabilized by being kept in an incubator, and he was tube-fed Pedialyte, which provided him with much-needed hydration. After 2 days he was up to 39 grams, and his kidneys proved to be functioning well with clear urine output. At this time he was taken off Pedialyte and put on diluted formula, as well as medication for his respiratory infection. Babies have to gradually work up to full strength formula to make sure their digestive systems can tolerate it, and it has to be done slowly over several days. This is especially important for babies who come in malnourished, starved, or otherwise compromised.

On April 6 he was up to 42 grams, and at this point he was active, grooming, and even lapping formula from a dish! He was gaining ground at a nice steady pace. But these things usually progress by fits and starts. Two steps forward, one step back. When an animal comes in already compromised, it’s important to keep a sharp eye out for relapses. And Rocky did have one. On April 20 he developed a fever, and his respiratory infection returned. He was prescribed new meds to hopefully clear everything from his system once and for all.

He recovered, of course, and from then on he just kept on growing bigger and stronger, earning the name ‘Rocky Balboa’.

TWRC opened back up towards the end of April, and Rocky was able to graduate to the on-site animal care program, where he continued to thrive under the watchful eye of capable staff. On June 5, he was at the healthy weight of 600 grams and was ready to move on to outside caging at the home of our executive director. He was released back into the wild on June 19.

This was a success story, but not only due to Rocky’s stamina and perseverance. Just like his human counterpart, he couldn’t have made it without the support and care of the people around him. As the saying goes, it takes a village, and it certainly did in Rocky’s case: beginning with  the homeowner who first noticed his plight, to the person who picked him up, to the expert care he received as he was slowly nursed back to health, and finally on to the ultimate victory of recovery and living his best life out in the wild where he belongs.

2020 was a challenge for most of us; sometimes it was hard to keep our spirits up. But good things did happen, and this particular rescue was just one example of the good being accomplished in spite of it all!

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