JetBlue passenger and pet opossum get kicked off flight: ‘Frustrating beyond belief’

Opossums are found nearly everywhere in North America. You can find them in cities, throughout the Prairie all the way into the mountains. The sight of an opossum does not normally surprise too many people. However, recently there was an opossum sighted on a plane. Yes, a plane.

But this was not just an ordinary wild opossum found on the plane. This was a pet opossum that was intentionally brought onto the plane. But that was not the problem. The opossum was the companion of Gerald Tautenhahn in a trip from California to Texas and Gerald and the opossum named Zatara were allowed to fly from Texas to California. The problem came when Gerald and Zatara were returning from California. Upon their return flight, someone from JetBlue informed Gerald that he either had to leave Zatara or they both could stay off the flight. 

Gerald, Zatara’s the opossum’s owner did his due diligence in researching the guidlines for traveling with an opossum…and it appears that those guidelines may be changed on the return trip home. 

These are the kind of stories that journalists love to put in front of the public for some good ol’ fashioned outrage. Two sides…”Opossums have no place on planes!” and “Aw, poor opossum. Let her fly!” It’s an easy story to run. Sure, we have issues a bit more pressing, but eh, why not? Let’s stir up some outrage and go ahead and run the opossum getting kicked off the plane story.

Sure, I have an opinion too but it may be a bit different. I have the perspective of someone that has extensive experience with opossums. I have caught more than I can ever remember. I have kissed wild ones and I have raised babies. 

I have also kept all sorts of pets. I got my start when I was in college. In college, I bred pythons. I’ve had pythons from 3’ all the way to 14’+. I’ve also had iguanas and monitors. These exotic animals were new to me and I loved them all. But to be honest, I admit that having unique animals also brought some attention. We’ve all seen that guy walking around with a bird on his shoulder, acting so nonchalantly but you know he is hoping someone…anyone will notice the bird on his shoulder. That was me, except it was a python or at other times an iguana.

This is where I got my first lesson in being discreet. I went to college to play soccer. On one occasion I brought my very docile 12’ Burmese python to the locker room before practice. My teammates seemed to be good about it. But when my German coach walked in…that’s when I learned that there was an unspoken rule about pythons in the locker room. And that rule was, no pythons in the locker room.

Dusty Showers in college with his snakes and lizards

Not too long after that I began working at ABC Wildlife in the Chicago Area. We were a fairly large nuisance wildlife trapping company. At the end of the day, it was not unusual for me to have 3-6 raccoons or opossums in the back of the truck to be relocated to the forest preserve. Policies have since changed and to the best of my knowledge, this practice of wildlife relocation is no longer legal.

However, as a new employee relocating wildlife, I always had this urge to want to tell people in the forest preserve that I have all of these animals and they should come over and see them. But in our training, we were always taught to be discreet. We should do our best to be invisible.

Eventually, the newness of the job wore off. I learned it is best when releasing animals to just keep your head down. I never got in trouble, but little good can come from telling the world you are doing something with wild animals. 

The general rule is, for the most part, many people will be fascinated. Others will just ignore you and then, there will almost always be someone that gets upset. 

It does not matter if what you are doing has any legal standing. When you have the option of being discreet, you should be discreet. On a side note, this reminds me of the time I took my late friend Sandy Denesowicz to a Boston Red Sox game. Sandy was a huge sox fan; she was also dying of breast cancer.

Dusty Showers wears a pink bra at Red Sox game to show support to his late friend Sandy D.

I used to be a breast cancer advocate. I would do all sorts of stuff for the cause while wearing a pink bra. While at Fenway Park watching a Sox game, Sandy dared me to take off my shirt and watch the game while wearing a pink bra.

The funny thing was, initially security thought it was great. Then someone showed up and said “You can’t be doin’ that, you need to put a shirt on!” Some of the security guys couldn’t stop laughing and others were not on board. It didn’t matter that some were okay with it, I drew attention to myself and I understood there could be consequences. 

Dusty Showers and Mara Gordon watching a Red Sox game in a pink bra.

I didn’t want to cause trouble, I was just looking to put a smile on Sandy’s face, but my point is that you have to understand what is most important to you.

Lucky, the great folks at Fenway have good hearts and they let me stay…man, I love Boston.

In the event of Gerald and his pet pal Zatara, wisdom would teach that one must decide what is more important, showing the world that you have an opossum…or getting back to Texas with Zatara the opossum. 

I think this one is on JetBlue. You let it slide on the first leg, you should have let it slide on the second leg. Yes, this could be a slippery slope. If you let Gerald on with his opossum, then how long will it be until someone wants to bring their unicorn on board? I mean, someone already flew commercial with a pony.

The difference between someone with an ounce of power and someone that has a solid grasp of appearance, this story could have gone a lot better if someone from JetBlue pulled Gerald to the side and said something like “Hey, I dig opossums just like the next guy. But a couple of people are concerned about it and our policy on flying opossums isn’t too clear. Would you just mind keeping ol’ Zatara in the cat carrier under the seat for the flight?”

People that handle animals for a living understand being discreet and when given the choice, prefer to not draw attention to themselves. If a traveller insists on travelling with an uncommon creature, they should be conscious of how to do so properly.

I get it. People love to see animals that are not accustomed to seeing. In fact, they even love seeing animals that are extremely common, such as dogs…geez, some people freak out about seeing dogs. But in the event of flying with an opossum, my 2 cents says to tell the proper people you have an opossum and ask what their traveling guidelines are…and tell the rest of the people think you have a weird cat that violently poops when people look at it, that should ensure that both you and your opossum have a nice, quiet flight.

Tags: , , ,
Dusty Showers has been in the urban nuisance wildlife and pest control field since 1993. Taught by Garon Fyffe, a pioneer in humane nuisance wildlife management, Dusty has a passion for finding humane solutions to human & wildlife conflicts. Dusty was the only individual invited by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission in the lat 1990's to help write legislation for legal protection of Florida bats. With an instinct for solving wildlife, Dusty found pest control to be an easy "add-on interest". Dusty started his first business "Animal Instincts Wildlife & Pest Management" in the Tampa Bay, Florida area in 1995. Eventually selling Animal Instincts in 2002, Dusty went on to start Creepy Creatures Termite and Pest Control in 2009, which he still owns and operates today in Palm Harbor, Florida.

Related Article