An update from the Wild Side: Just when you think you’re going to get a breather after a busy, wildlife baby season (and I’m thinking I can focus more on my writing), the second breeding season of squirrels becomes evident. They start coming into the shelter, the second wave, one single infant after another. This year, so far, we’ve done well by keeping the numbers down. North Carolina hasn’t been battered by hurricanes, so nests aren’t coming down. That means the majority of litters are staying up in the trees where they belong. But things happen to occasionally bring one little girl or boy down. Our shelter has about twenty-five already — What? Oops, I mean thirty (which, of course, is much better that one hundred and thirty which a hurricane is certainly capable of). If our medical examination reveals no injury or ailments, we buddy up singles with other singles to create littermates. Squirrel babies are the cutest and most cooperative mammals if they aren’t injured or have any other physical condition going on. They adapt well to syringe feeding, welcome full tummies and just want to be kept safe and warm. I’m keeping two “special needs” infants at my house for around the clock care and extra feedings. I used to give my home care squirrels names, usually after hurricanes, such as Bertha, Charlie, Daniel, Fran or Floyd, but a squirrel with a human name is even harder to release to the wild. Somehow, the human tendency to name these precious and tiny creatures creates extensions of me, and that’s unbearable when you understand the life and longevity of a squirrel in the wild, but they must be released to live the squirrel life nature intended. It’s only fair. Now, I just refer to them by where they came from. With hurricanes, we pretty much know the story of how and why they arrive at the shelter, but when a storm doesn’t pound them to the ground, we’re never quite sure what happened. We can only speculate. We listen to the tales of the human rescuers and transporters, but they only know part of the story and the squirrels aren’t talking. My guess is, it’s so traumatic it would take months of Squirrel psychotherapy before they would be able to share what truly happened anyway. We don’t have that much time, so we go “Dr. Phil” on them. Deal with the moment by getting them well and as big and bad as we can so they can return to their life in the trees stronger than they were as soon as possible. The first infant squirrel to arrive at my house on the short bus was a tiny girl. A young, teenager told me she was walking up to her door after school and saw something crawling in the grass. She stood still until the baby squirrel limped to her and collapsed across her tennis shoe. (I believe animals know that some humans are capable of great compassion and will render help.) As the young girl shared her rescue story, I could see the whole drama playing out; the tiny squirrel pushing through the heavy blades of grass with her last squeeze of strength and wits to throw herself toward the young girl’s feet, knowing it was her last and only chance.) The emaciated squirrel, at that point, was no longer conscious but still breathing. After receiving the little female and assessing her condition, the prognosis was grim at best. “Northwoods,” she became known, was severely dehydrated, starving and her left leg was swollen three times it’s normal size. During my examination I found the bones of her leg in tact, no bot fly infestation to explain the huge lump inside her leg, but two holes; one in the outer hip area and one in her groin. I wasn’t there to witness, but my theory is either an owl’s or a red-tailed hawk’s talons grabbed her out of the nest, and she somehow wiggled free and dropped to the ground. She was hurt and who knows how far she sailed through the air before the relocation release. Her whistles for Mom went unheard. She tried to fend for herself, but didn’t know how to feed herself yet, and then the punctures in her leg got infected. It’s been a trial draining the infection, irrigating the wound with hydrogen peroxide and applying bacitracin (which she keeps licking off). That’s okay — the antibiotic can be taken internally as well as topically. She’s looking pretty good now. The second “special needs” little one was also dehydrated and starving, but not injured. He was found sitting in the middle of the road next to his sibling who had been killed by a car. I figure with “Rt 53, Southwest,” something happened to Momma, and she didn’t return to the tree. They waited in the nest like the wonderfully obedient baby squirrels they are, probably hadn’t eaten for a week — then when hunger and thirst got to be too much, they headed out to find Mom or food. He was trembling, extremely weak, unable to keep his eyes open and barely able to stand. Hydration was the first step, but he was unable to drink even 1 cc of fluids because his stomach had shrunk so much. He received a small quantity of fluids every hour until his hold capacity increased. Fortunately, with Northwoods as his role model, he has since packed on weight, some fight and is doing very well. Please enjoy the pictorial updates on Northwoods (notice her wound is healing nicely) and Rt 53, Southwest (notice his rotund tummy).
I’m hoping tropical storm Gabrielle snoozes on past us in the next few days and heads back out to sea, because it has truly been a fortunate, hurricaneless year for us so far, and I’d just like to keep it that way! A light soak every once in a while is fine, but when it rains heavy at this time of the year, it pours baby squirrels, and we don’t want that. Ah – oh, here comes the rain.
author of “Save Them All”