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A beagle and a possum walk into a back yard. Only one would leave with his dignity.

It might sound like the opening line of a bad joke, but it's a real-life melodrama playing out at our house. For the past few months, our beagle Charlie has been locked in a not-so-silent war with a possum who lives in the woods behind our house. I've named him Pete (the possum, not the woods).

This puppy-possum war isn't personal. Charlie and Pete are just doing what dogs and possums do. Possums lurk around at night, sometimes in places where they're not welcome, and beagles sniff things and bark -- a lot.

The first skirmish between Charlie and Pete happened on a night with a full moon. Charlie stood on the raised backyard deck, barking into the dark woods beyond the fence. He never moved from his spot, and he barked loud and long enough to make me come out and yell at him.

I called for him to come inside. He didn't move.

I tried bribing him with a treat. Still didn't move.

He just stood there staring, barking, bellowing in protest.

I walked over and stood beside him, peering into the woods to see what he was seeing. Then I spotted it -- two beady eyes reflecting the moonlight with a menacing glow.

I grabbed the iPhone from my pocket and opened the flashlight app, pointing it in the direction of the thing Charlie had locked eyes with. That's the first time I saw Pete the possum, sitting on a low tree branch just beyond the fence line, staring defiantly back at the beagle.

Before he went to war with a possum, I was beginning to think Charlie had outgrown this type of scent hound shenanigans. He's 9 years old now, and lately he operates in one of two gears. He's either milling around the kitchen in hopes someone will toss him a snack, or he's doing a spot-on impersonation of a sofa lump.

So I was surprised the second time I saw Charlie do battle with Pete the possum. When I heard the tell-tale baying, I went to investigate and realized why the barking was even more frenzied than the first time. Pete the possum was sitting on top of our wooden privacy fence, staring down at Charlie -- who, despite his determined jumping, could not reach him.

Sneaky Pete took a few hurried steps along the top rail of the fence, which only made Charlie pursue him more, lunging and leaping as he barked. It was a condescending, taunting move, even for a possum. When Pete reached the corner of our property, he disappeared on the safe side of the fence.

Weeks passed without any possum sightings. Peace had returned to our land. Then last night, without warning, Pete the possum penetrated the perimeter.

As soon as his beagle nose sniffed the open air, Charlie took off like a bullet across the yard -- a barking blur of fur and fury. Startled, I watched him barrel to the base of our tree. The security motion light turned on, and that's when I saw Pete scurry straight up the trunk of the tree, Spiderman style. Pete is a rather plump possum -- probably because of quarantine snacking -- so his quick vertical climb seemed to defy the laws of physics.

Charlie jumped after him, nearly nipping the tip of Pete's skinny, hairless tail. But to no avail. Pete escaped once again, settling on a tree branch so he could look down on the dog with evil glee.

Having been outrun and outwitted, Charlie decided his only move was to outlast the invader. So he sat under the tree, staring up at Pete while barking his extreme displeasure. I almost felt sorry for him. If this had been a Looney Tunes cartoon, Charlie would've been the perpetually defeated Wile E. Coyote. (Thankfully, Charlie doesn't have access to dynamite.)

I admired his persistence, but I had to intervene. Two of our neighbors within earshot have babies, and I couldn't let Charlie's bellowing wake them. I walked over and scooped up my beleaguered beagle, hoping the possum wouldn't attack us both from above.

"Sorry, buddy," I said as I carried him back inside to the sofa. "Maybe you'll get him next time."

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected] Her book is available on Amazon.

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