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Anita Marie Henness

1942 - 2002

We are greatly saddened to report that Dr. Henness passed away on Saturday, February 2, 2002, at the age of 60, after a two-year-long struggle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. She will be missed enormously by our 'possum nation, and will be long remembered for her groundbreaking discoveries resulting from over 18 years 24/7 of clinical research of the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana).

Whether it was attending UC/Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and 2-year residency in clinical oncology and teaching at the School of Veterinary Medicine in Cambridge, England - before women did that sort of thing - or devoting her entire life to clinical research of opossums from 1982 to 2000, she was always the pioneer. Along with being the country's foremost authority on the Virginia Opossum, she had achievements in many other areas:

If she could be described in a word, it would be "passionate." She threw herself completely into whatever task was at hand. She was fragile in many ways, but she was tough and uncompromising when it came to the best interests of her beloved species, the opossum.

I am sure I am not alone in stating that I will long remember having been "reduced to cinders" by the good doctor if I strayed or wavered from her instructions or guidelines, was slow in my learning process, or ever so much as mentioned the Jurgelski Diet in her presence.

But, when I applied her teachings, always found she was right all along. Fortified with a shot of whiskey before each phone call, just in case, I was able to go back to her for the many "clarifications" I would need over the years.

Her protocols were slowly accumulated and sorely tried. And all us opossum people can safely stand on her shoulders and continue on, fortified with her solid base of research, as we build upon the body of knowledge she has left us. It is written that what one does in life lives through eternity. That will certainly be true with the advances she made in the understanding of the Virginia Opossum. To borrow the imagery of Kahlil Gibran ... the arrow of her life's work has left the bow.

She was sharp, she was ruthlessly honest, she was a steady and caring mentor and friend, and she is gone from us too soon. She will be missed.

Janice Hughlett
President, National Opossum Society


A memorial service was held Sunday, February 24, 2002 at North Orange County Christian Church

If desired, donations may be made to cancer research or the National Opossum Society.
As you know, 'our' Anita was adamantly opposed to animals used in research, and told us so many times through the NOS newsletter, etc. Since the American Cancer Society still funds animal research, I am afraid it would not honor her to contribute to them in her name.The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine lists charities that do not fund animal research, and there are several there that are related to cancer, if anyone would like to look for an alternative.

The following quotations were found handwritten by Dr. Henness and were included in the eulogy given by Janice:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
- 2 Timothy 4:7

This is my quest, to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To be willing to give when there's no more to give
To be willing to die so that honor and justice may live
And I know if I'll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one woman scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.
-from the Man of La Mancha (Knight of the Woeful Countenance)

If you would like to share your remembrances of Dr. Henness on this page, please send a letter to the webmaster.
A small Photo Album is being prepared, including other personal memories of Dr. Henness.
When I first joined the Opossum Society of California in 1987, I remember what a thrill it was to receive a handwritten note from Dr. Anita Henness. "Our first Florida member!", she said, making me feel so special, and inquiring if I currently was caring for an opossum. Even then, there was so much more information delivered to me with that membership than I had been able to find at the library...no Internet, then, folks!...it was wonderful.

What a godsend, I thought, what a remarkable human being to devote so much energy to caring for these animals that, at that time, I had only recently fallen in love with. How splendid to find others who shared my love.

That was typical of Anita until the time that she had to quit practicing veterinary medicine. She was attentive to each and every opossum, and each and every human. That attention was not always welcomed by the humans you could not hide from this lady. Call her with a problem, and then not follow-up with her? Hint at an unethical interest in them? You would then receive the famous Post Card ZAP, a handwritten message that inquired after the opossum, and demanded a response. No one slipped through the cracks with Dr. Henness. No 'possum, no person. And what we humans sometimes found it difficult to understand..it was ALWAYS about the opossums. Those of us that knew her well also knew that she made enemies easily...I often found myself in the position of trying to temper her words to others, explain that if her teachings seemed difficult, it was only because she had been there, done that, and simply could not bear to have an opossum suffer because their human would not do what was proven to be the correct thing for their health. Her frustration was often close to the surface, after so many years of watching her beloved opossums- and it didn't matter if they were mine or yours or hers-(you animal people know what I mean)- sicken from human-induced causes.

I've joked, and maybe I shouldn't have, about becoming a real NOS member only after being yelled at by Dr. Henness.

I only wish she was here to yell at me now.

Dr. Henness was one of the most well-read, well-spoken, well-written and gracious persons I have ever encountered. While I speak here about the fractious side of her, she was also the epitome of a learned and mannered Lady- a truly refreshing isle of elegance. She loved to read mysteries, she loved to watch "Matlock", she loved antiques, she loved to draw, she loved Polly's pies.

She loved opossums.

Over the past 2 years, we at NOS have been carrying on without the verbal medical assistance from Dr. Henness. While sustaining our cohesion as a group, we are painfully tested as we deal with the difficult rehabilitation and medical issues that opossums present with. Those of you that are reading this far into the Web site know that they can be very difficult animals to raise and rehabilitate, and surely join with me in direly missing the sure footing of Dr.'s voice on the other end of the telephone.

But we will and must continue to build upon her legacy, for the benefit of the animals that bring us together. Veterinarians, rehabilitators, caregivers, please report on your experiences, your successes and failures, so that we may add to our knowledge base and continue this work.

Rest in Peace, Dr. Anita Henness. We will carry on, until we meet again.

Paula Arms
Vice-President, National Opossum Society


If you would like to share your remembrances of Dr. Henness on this page, please send a letter to the webmaster.
A small Photo Album is being prepared, including other personal memories of Dr. Henness.


I know that you were working mostly in the United States, but there is many a Canadian Virginia opossum who owes their lives to the knowledge I have acquired from your society. You will be missed, but I will continue to help the opossum as I am sure would be your wish.

-Barb Reid


I first came in contact with Dr. Henness when my male opossum was over 3 years old. He was my first opossum. His mother and sibling were all victims of a car. He was the only living survivor. My son had found him on the side of the road under a bush. We rushed him to the newest vet, thinking he would know someone to take this little creature. Instead, he told me to take him home and give him kitten replacement milk. I did this ritual every 3 hours, thinking this little guy is not going to make it. Well, he lived almost 4 years as part of our family. (Cancer got him in the end). If it had not been for Dr. Henness we would not have gotten the enjoyment of being able to share our lives with one of God's most complicated creations.
Dr. Henness encouraged and directed me on things to make his last days pleasant. I would be crying and upset when I talked to her and she would always put my opossum, Pogo, first. I remember her telling me there is time for that stuff later, for now concentrate on Pogo. I now have a little girl opossum, Ruffles, who I love dearly. I would not have got to know the wonderful world of opossums without Dr. Henness' help.
I miss her dearly.
I would also like to thank Janice and Paula for taking up the torch in helping us all with our little furries.

-Becky Rusher


It is with deep sorrow that I received your message about Anita's passing.
The wealth of information that she provided and helped facilitate formed a huge "safety net" for opossum enthusiasts all over the country. For me, it opened the world of wildlife rehab, and gave me confidence, knowing I had a network of people with whom to consult. When my first rescue opossum came to me, so unexpectedly, Dr. Henness was there to guide me. "Henry" soon became the love of my life, and inspired me to spend nearly ALL of my spare time and money in wildlife rehab. I thank Henry and Dr. Henness for providing the most rewarding outlet for my crazy adoration for the animal world. I will assume they are together now, my beautiful Henry and Anita.
Dear Anita, the void you leave behind is enormous.
-Raine Lutz

Like Raine, I had a "Henry".only mine was Alex. I loved Alex dearly, but I was clueless. I'll never forget my first phone call to Dr. Henness - she scared me to death. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU'RE FEEDING HIM HAMBURGER???!!!"

She had a way of setting you straight! But it was clear that she knew opossums and had a wealth of knowledge to share. I learned so much from her. My veterinarian was very skeptical at first too - until I insisted that he call her. Suddenly he was a believer too. She sacrificed everything for the sake of opossums - and we, as folks who love opossums, are the beneficiaries. We're light years ahead of where we would be in understanding them without her years of research.

-Linda Lacny


home orphans diet vet facts rehab positions membership
If you would like to share your remembrances of Dr. Henness on this page, please send a letter to the webmaster.
A small Photo Album is being prepared, including other personal memories of Dr. Henness.
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