Squirrels love to climb. Feisty liked
to climb a branch we brought inside, but most of all, she liked to climb me!
Several years ago, we saw a young squirrel fall twenty feet to
the ground. When we rushed outside, we found the little animal bright-eyed but unable to
move. We contacted the Humane Society, who sent "the squirrel lady," a
rehabilitator who knows how to take care of injured squirrels. She found that the
squirrel couldnít move its back legs or tail but that it could use its front legs. She
was pleased at how well we were caring for the squirrel, so after giving us detailed
advice, she left it in our care.
We called the little squirrel
Feisty because it was so lively, spunky, and bold. I kept her in my office in a
fiberglass travel kennel, so that she couldnít chew her way out. At first, it was only
furnished with wood chips and a soft baby blanket. But gradually Feisty collected other
things for her home. She usually explored my office while I worked, and one day she
found a rawhide bone that the dog had left on the floor. She worked hard to drag the
bone, which was as long as she was, into her kennel. She loved to chew on itóalthough
Abercrombie was not happy to find his bone in her cage. With his nose against the door
of the kennel, he spent hours watching her chew.
One day as I worked at the computer, Feisty gripped my
sweatshirt with her front feet and climbed up my back. As she balanced on my shoulder, I
held my breath. I was thinking about how powerful a squirrelís teeth areóstrong
enough to open a black walnut. But then I had a wonderful thought: "There is a baby
squirrel sitting on my shoulder!" And I loved it. In the days and weeks that
followed, I got used to her climbing up my back and watching me work.
Once we knew she could climb,
we brought a sturdy branch with rough bark into the office. We leaned the six-foot
branch in a corner and fluffed a soft blanket around the base. Feisty was a good
climber, but without the use of her tail for balance, she often ended up bouncing into
the blanket. She also fell from my desk into the wastebasket at least once a day. I
wondered if she did it on purpose. She liked playing with the waste paper until the
wastebasket would turn over and she could escape!
We tried to
"listen" to her behavior, so that we would know how best to care for her. She
told us that she needed to chew (remember the rawhide bone she stole?) and that she
needed to climb. She told us that she liked to be petted but not held. And she told us
exactly what she liked to eat. Her favorite treat was sunflower seeds, but she also ate
nuts, cereal, dried corn, and fruit. We hid some of her food, so that she could gather
it and store it the way all squirrels do.
One day when I heard Feisty
scolding the dog with a husky barking call, I recognized the sound that an adult
squirrel makes. Feisty was still small, although her shoulders and front legs were
sturdy and strong. I hadnít realized until I heard her grown-up voice that she was
Bob built a large cage for
Feisty, so that we could introduce her to the outdoors. We placed a squirrel house
inside the cage, as well as tree branches, water and food, and the baby blanket from her
kennel. We even supplied a box of dirt so she could bury nuts. She spent several days
moving into the squirrel house. She stripped leaves from the branches and made a nest
with them. And she pulled the blanket inside, too!
An interesting thing happened
when Feisty moved outside. She had a daily visitor. An adult squirrel spent time with
her every morning. I wondered if the squirrel might be her mother. Young squirrels stay
with their mother for a season, and sometimes we see them playing together.
We tried to make Feistyís
life in captivity as interesting as possible. We gave her unusual foods to try and
natural objects to investigate. We occasionally brought her into the house, but she wasnít
really comfortable there any longer. One evening, I tried to call her out of her
squirrel house, but she didnít appear. The next morning I found her dead. We wrapped
her in the baby blanket and laid her in a little grave lined with ferns. And we said
goodbye to a dear friend.
Feisty couldnít move her back legs
or tail, but she was still very active.
How to care for wounded wildlife is from A Kidís Spring EcoJournal by Toni Albert.
distressing to find a wounded animal. We want to try to helpóbut how? What is the best
and wisest thing to do?
A bird or mammal that is so
hurt that it canít fly or run away is seriously injured or sick. Get help from an
adult to gently lift the animal into a box lined with a soft towel. Since a helpless
animal is naturally frightened and defensive, the adult should wear heavy work gloves to
avoid getting bitten. Place the box in a warm quiet place away from people
You may want to feed and nurse the
animal you rescue, but it takes special knowledge and skill to save a wild animal. Call
the Humane Society, SPCA, Audubon Society, or a veterinarian for help. They will be able
to put you in contact with a rehabilitator, a person who is experienced in caring
for the kind of animal you found. Rehabilitators also have state permits to keep
wildlife in captivity.
Once the rescued animal is
settled with the rehabilitator, you can take the opportunity to ask some questions. Find
out how the animals are cared for and where they are released. Maybe the rehabilitator
will tell you some stories about other rescued animals. Maybe he or she will invite you
to call and check on the progress of the animal you found.
We loved having Feisty in
our family for a while, but itís very sad to see a wild animal in captivity. Itís
against the law to keep a wild animal as a petóand itís against what we know is