A New Orleans Man Wants His Opossum Back. Thousands Have Joined His Plea. - The World News

A New Orleans Man Wants His Opossum Back. Thousands Have Joined His Plea.

A man in New Orleans lonesome for an opossum named Saffron, whom he had raised as a pet and dressed in a colorful sweater, is appealing to authorities to return the animal, which was taken from him by state wildlife officials.

Thousands have backed an online petition to reunite the man with his marsupial.

William Voiles, an artist who makes braided trinkets, said the 1-year-old opossum had been confiscated in the city’s French Quarter during Mardi Gras celebrations earlier this month as part of a public safety effort. A friend’s petition on Change.org to bring Saffron home had garnered nearly 4,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Voiles, 50, said he and his friends were appealing to law enforcement, biologists, veterinarians, online supporters and even Gov. Jeff Landry of Louisiana for help.

Saffron formed part of a menagerie, including one rabbit and two dogs, all named after spices, that Mr. Voiles wheeled around New Orleans on a tricycle with a basket and a trailer.

Most days, Mr. Voiles said, he pedalled the animals up to a hill above the Mississippi River where he braids crosses, fleurs-de-lis and other items, which he sells to pay for pet food and rent. He and his pets also frequented the Cafe Envie in the French Quarter, where customers found Saffron sprawled across Mr. Voiles’s shoulders or curled up in the tricycle basket.

Mr. Voiles said he took in Saffron last year, six weeks after the death of his longtime companion, a 12-year-old pit bull named Cinnamon.

He said he had been on his way to the French Quarter when he spotted a dead opossum on the side of the road, with a joey “crawling on top of her, no bigger than the size of my thumb.”

Baby opossums are born naked and blind, about the size of honeybees, after a gestation period of just under two weeks.

“He didn’t have his eyes open or anything,” Mr. Voiles said. “When I picked him up, I wasn’t thinking of breaking any law, I was thinking about saving a life.”

Mr. Voiles brought the opossum to the home he shared with a roommate and the other animals, feeding it pet store formula from a bottle.

Enforcement agents from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries seized the opossum during a Mardi Gras patrol of the Quarter, the agency said in a news release.

The agents issued a citation to Mr. Voiles for violating Louisiana’s Title 56, a law that says quadrupeds and other wildlife cannot be “taken” without a permit.

Agents also seized a 14.5-foot reticulated python, a 10-foot reticulated python and a 3-foot ball python from others during the Mardi Gras patrols.

Mr. Voiles is facing state charges for the illegal possession of the opossum that could result in a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail, the agency said.

Mr. Voiles said he pleaded with the agents to let him keep Saffron, who had been dressed in a blue-and-green sweater. He argued that the animal would not survive if it were returned to the wild.

“The first thing he saw was a rabbit, two dogs and me,” Mr. Voiles said of the opossum. “He was my little baby.”

He also said the animal posed no risk to humans. Opossums are highly resistant to rabies, and are less likely to bite or scratch humans than raccoons or skunks.

“The only time he’s ever bit anybody was when he was teething,” Mr. Voiles said.

Following a tip, Mr. Voiles and his friends called the Louisiana State University biology department looking for Saffron. People at L.S.U., after confirming that the opossum was not there, suggested they try a field office for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Hammond, a city about 45 miles northwest of New Orleans. No luck there, so Mr. Voiles called wildlife rehabilitation centers across the state.

Taylor Brazan, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said that because the case against Mr. Voiles was pending, she was not authorized to say where he was being held.

Mr. Voiles said that, as an army brat whose parents worked long hours, he never developed close human relationships, instead relying upon the companionship of animals.

Saffron was not his first pet marsupial.

While working as a tree trimmer in Alabama, he said he took home many abandoned baby animals, including five or six squirrels, a couple of skunks and an opossum that had wandered into a neighbor’s house.

Mr. Voiles said the animals gave him purpose when he struggled with drug addiction and bouts of unemployment.

He said Saffron had free rein of the house, but that the opossum tended to sleep in a little box behind the door, waking Mr. Voiles around 3 a.m., when he began to roam.

“I miss waking up beside him,” Mr. Voiles said.

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