Q: What is the proper course of action for a young Texan of questionable self-reliance when a possum decides to crawl under her house, depart the earthly realm, and begin stinking to high heaven? Do you recommend the DIY method or calling in the professionals? The favor of a timely response would be greatly appreciated.

Nan Gardner, San Antonio

A: Texas is not short on scrabbling critters. In addition to plentiful possums, there are also raccoons, rabbits, badgers, armadillos, skunks, squirrels, beavers, and porcupines, among many, many others. But it’s always the possums, and sometimes the raccoons, and occasionally the skunks, that seem to choose crawl spaces beneath the homes of undeserving Texans in which to expire.

No matter the specific creature, once this happens and the decomposition process ensues, it doesn’t take long for it to become pungently evident that there is a real problem at hand. At first, there is just a slight whiff of trouble. A hint. A homeowner might arrive from a hard day’s work, open the front door, and then, on the way to the fridge for the customary end-of-the-workday libation, pass through a faint odor that was not there when she left the house that morning. It’s dismissed as the stink of a full trashcan or, perhaps, flatulence from old Spot. But then, while the coffee is brewing the next morning, it hits you again. “Where is that smell coming from” you ask yourself? “Oh, well,” you say on the way out the door.

Very soon, though, within a day or so of that first trace of stench, the smell becomes unmistakable. When death comes a knocking, it does so with a fairly rapid crescendo. Tap-tap. Knock-knock-knock. Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound. Bam! Once the unsettling realization is made that something in your very immediate vicinity has croaked, and that the godawful smell shows no signs of dissipation, the harried race to find the source is on. Cluttered closets are checked. So are crowded cabinets, seldom used guest bedrooms, and the attic. Everywhere. “Could it be under the house,” you wonder? And then, as you approach the access point, it hits you like a carcass-filled dump truck. Sound familiar?

You should count yourself lucky at having discovered the offending source. This is not always the case. Sometimes, those little boogers wedge themselves into a far, unreachable corner, never to be found, leaving the living residents of the dwelling to wait out the malodorous process of decomposition in disgusted gloom.

The Texanist knows all of this from personal experience and harbors vivid memories of unfortunate incidences similar to the one that you are currently contemplating. In fact, he recently had the real non-pleasure of suiting up in a bespoke hazmat suit of his own making (long-sleeve t-shirt, overalls, old sweatshirt, bandana do-rag, gimme cap, headlamp, respirator, work gloves, and a good coating of insect repellent), squeezing through a tiny hatch in the floor of his daughter’s closet with two heavy-duty trash bags and small garden rake in hand, and coming face-to-face with a bloated, oozing, maggoty … well, the Texanist will spare you the grimy details.

After a drenching sweat, a torrent of foul language, and some gagging, the mission was eventually accomplished. But a severe case of PTSD was risked in getting it done. And, too, it almost took a fire department-assisted extraction to get back through that little trapdoor.

It is with that and other such experiences in his quiver of knowledge that the Texanist can tell you, without the least bit of hesitation, that a person who is equipped with a wavering intestinal fortitude and even a modicum of intolerance of nauseating situations, is not the person to take on the job of putrid possum carcass removal. If you have the resources, there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling in the professionals. Waste no more time.

You didn’t hear it from the Texanist, but there are moments in this life when self-sufficiency is wildly overrated. Good luck.

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