WOODLAND HILLS – It took two surgeons 3 1/2 hours to plug a 9 mm bullet hole through his head.
It may take another operation – or a total $9,000 worth of surgery – and months of intensive care to save him.
The victim: a Virginia opossum gunned down Saturday in Van Nuys.
“He’s really a lucky guy,” said Brenda Varvarigos, founder of Valley Wildlife Care in Woodland Hills, who is nursing the wounded critter. “I have a soft spot for opossums because people hate them, misunderstand them.
“Most people don’t realize that (we) would save an opossum.”
It took a village to save this one.
It was just after dark Saturday when a woman called the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services to report an opossum down in front of her apartment complex.
An adult male had a bloody hole in its head.
When West Valley shelter Officer G. Hartel arrived, she found the marsupial wrapped in blankets, defended by neighborhood children.
“Kids were standing around it; they thought I was going to harm it,” Hartel said.
Hartel, who has a penchant for diverting injured wildlife from almost-certain euthanasia, knew just where to take the wheezing animal.
At 10:30 p.m., she carried him to Varvarigos, a mother-of-three whose backyard rescue center rehabilitated 920 injured birds and mammals picked up by animal control officers last year.
Licensed by state and federal wildlife agencies with a dozen yearsof wildlife care behind her, Varvarigos knew just what to do.
After nursing the animal’s wounds, Varvarigos arrived with her pointy-faced charge at 7:30 a.m. Monday at the door of Dr. Attila Molnar and Dr. Kerry Milliken, the husband-wife team at Double R Veterinary Center in Calabasas.
Molnar and Milliken, exotic animal specialists, rushed to examine him, and deduced a 9 mm round had bored between its 52 teeth.
“Poor opossum,” Molnar said. “He was shot in the head by somebody, the bullet went through the frontal sinus in front of the brain, made a clean hole and broke the zygomatic arch, or jawbone, then came down and broke his mandible, or lower jaw and the bullet ricocheted and went through his neck.”
Both vets operated for free for 3 1/2 hours in a surgery that normally would be billed at $15 a minute each, closing the bullet holes with four staples and as many sutures. Another 1 1/2-hour surgery was planned this week.
They predict a full recovery of the opossum in two to three months.
“Every animal has just as much right to exist, whether it’s a small bird or a bald eagle or an opossum,” said Molnar. “They should all get another chance.”
Varvarigos said it may cost her up to $700 in food and medicine before she can set him free.
“C’mon baby, bless you,” she said, as she shot the sneezing creature with painkiller and an antibiotic, his prehensile tail and human-like hands grasping at her clothes.
Outside, it was one mean Los Angeles.
Among her Woodland Hills menagerie, a skunk recovered from a broken leg after getting run over by a car.
A scrub jay recuperated after a housecat ripped away its upper beak.
A couple of wild parrots got well, one from a window crash, the other from a gunshot through its wing.
“The whole situation is a miracle,” Varvarigos said. “This poor opossum had a bullet blown through his head and shouldn’t be alive.
“He’s sweet. He doesn’t growl. He doesn’t hiss. And that’s why he was shot, because he doesn’t have any fear of people – and because he walked up to the wrong person.”