When we went out last Thursday morning for our too-early first walk of the day, Cricket found something. At first I thought it was a dead mouse. Cricket has found dead mice a number of times, because we have feral cats on the property who are allowed to stay because of their great mousing skills. So, I thought it was a dead mouse and I yanked Cricket away from it quickly. It was curled up a few feet away from one of the huge trees on the property, up in the lightly wooded area where we are encouraged to walk the dogs. Butterfly did her usual standing around and listening to the raindrops thing – oh yeah, it was raining, lightly by then, after a night of heavy rain – and it was a lovely sound, the way the rain drops hit the leaves far over our heads. But I was still getting wet. The girls both did their business, and we were on our way back out of the woods when I thought I saw the dead mouse move an arm. I stepped a little bit closer, but I’m afraid of dead things so not too close, and that’s when I realized that it was a tiny squirrel and not a mouse, with a big head, and grey and white fur, and not only was one arm moving, the tiny squirrel was breathing. It was alive.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I had to take the girls back inside, out of the train, first and foremost. I left them standing in the hallway while I went down to the basement to throw away their bag-o-poop, and I looked through the pile of Amazon shipping boxes outside the garbage room. I like ordering things, but I am nothing compared to my next door neighbors (with the new baby) who have ordered so many things that they now have to move into a house to make room for all of it. I chose a small, shallow box, with the new-fangled air-pillow box-filler stuff, and I popped the pillows to use it as a squirrel grabber, in case it really was dead and only seemed to be moving because of the wind and rain, but also as a temporary blanket, in case it was actually alive.
The girls watched me through the glass front door of our building as I went back out into the rain, and up the hill, to where Cricket had found the baby squirrel. It was still there, and still getting rained on, and still faintly breathing and moving an arm, but just barely. I picked it up carefully, all the time worrying that I should leave it there, to die a natural death, or to be found by its Mom after whatever calamity had sent her away. But it was alive, and I couldn’t just leave it there to die.
I took the box of baby squirrel inside to the girls, and we walked up the stairs and into the apartment, and that’s when I realized that I had to wake up my mom. She’s not a fan of early mornings, and I would have let her sleep through the drama, except that I knew I’d have to leave for my internship in less than an hour, and I needed her help.
As soon as Mom saw the baby squirrel, breathing in the shallow box on the dining room table, she was wide awake and in Mommy mode. She took the baby out of the box and wrapped it in warmed up towels and held it while I googled. There are surprisingly specific and comprehensive baby squirrel manuals online. One was long and alarmist – with the basic gist being that I should have left her out there in the rain to die. The other manual was shorter, simpler, and more hopeful.
Then Mom called our vet’s office to ask them what to do. The woman who answered the phone said that they’d stopped working with their wildlife specialist and had no other recommendations, and, really, the baby squirrel was going to die. Mom persisted, though, and looked up other wildlife groups she’d heard of in the area, and left messages for them on email and voicemail. In the meantime, we prepared the rehydrating solution recommended in the baby squirrel guide and then and I used Butterfly’s supply of liquid medicine syringes to start bringing the baby back to life.
By the way, I am not an expert at identifying baby squirrel genitalia, but we later found out that she was a girl, so let’s just pretend I knew that from the beginning. We set her shallow box on a heating pad (on low), and filled the box with fabric from Mom’s quilting closet, because the baby squirrel guide said that regular towels could unravel and choke her.
I took care of Cricket and Butterfly’s morning routine, and made sure they got extra treats for all of their patience, and then I got myself dressed for work, charged my cell phone, and reluctantly left Mom to take on the burden of keeping the baby squirrel alive while I was away.
Cricket sniffing the baby
Butterfly, worried I’m giving her peanut butter to the baby.
I tried to talk about the baby with a fellow intern, but she looked non-plussed. “You brought a squirrel into your house?” She asked, looking at me like I’d slathered bloody entrails on my door posts. So I focused on being nice and pleasant and helpful all day, and tried to put the baby squirrel out of my mind. The room we work in is filled with windows, and I could see as the rain got heavier and heavier, so I thought, maybe, I’d done the right thing by taking the baby into a dry place. But my mind was still racing, telling me that I’d made a mistake bringing her inside, and she would die and it would be my fault. She had a fractured arm, and probably other injuries, she was cold to the touch, and her mother had abandoned her; who was I to think I could save her?
When I got home, Mom was sitting on the couch and the baby squirrel on her chest, squeaking away. Her eyes were still closed, but she was much more alert, climbing on Mom and grabbing her fingers with a paw. The baby had survived eight hours in our care, against all odds, and the next job listed in the baby squirrel guide was to move from rehydration to actual feeding. The guide said we needed Esbilac milk powder for puppies, and we should mix it with water and heavy cream to mimic squirrel mommy milk. I asked Mom if she wanted to go out and have a break from baby care, but she didn’t, so out I went again, in the rain and rush hour traffic, to find the puppy milk powder.
When I came back, it was my turn to watch the baby. Her body temperature kept cooling down between feedings, despite the heating pad under her box, so Mom told me to hold the baby in my hands and try to keep her warm myself. I had to keep Cricket from sniffing too close, but Butterfly was largely uninterested in the baby; as far as she was concerned, there was no squirrel in the house.
After another few hours of rehydration, we mixed up a batch of the new squirrel baby milk, and watered it down according to the mathematical formula in the guide, and warmed it in the microwave until it was just right. The baby squirrel swallowed her milk through the syringe dutifully, only pulling her head away a few times.
I woke up every few hours overnight to feed her, and to check that she was still breathing, and when I woke up again at eight o’clock the next morning I realized that she’d survived more than twenty four hours with us. She even seemed to be a little more energetic, though that could have been my wishful thinking. Mom said, pointedly, that we shouldn’t name her and risk becoming too bonded, but she knew it was already too late.
We were still waiting for call backs from the wildlife groups a few hours later, when a friend on Facebook recommended calling other vets in the area, to see if they could help. The first one we looked up had the number of a local wildlife rescue, and when we called, they told us to bring the baby over right away.
By noon on Friday, we were on the road, the squirrel baby in her box on my lap, on our way to the rescue hospital. I kept my hand in the box to keep her warm, and she decided to crawl into my hand and snuggle.
When we reached the Wildlife center, I filled out forms about where I’d found the baby squirrel and the assumed circumstances of her injury (a fall from the nest in the storm seemed the most likely cause, especially when I found some of the nesting material a few feet away from where I found the baby). They gave me her rescue ID number and their email address and said that I could write to them for an update whenever I wanted, and then they took her away.
I was devastated, but also hopeful. I knew that the rescue hospital would be able to do a much better job than I could at treating her wounds and feeding her correctly. Giving her up was the right thing to do, but it was also awful, and painful, and I was starting to have trouble breathing. I was giving her the best possible chance to survive, though, and I had to hold onto that.
I waited a couple of days to give the wildlife center a chance to do their work, but then I got impatient for good news, and wrote to them.
This was the email I received from them on Monday morning:
Unfortunately, we had sad news about the baby squirrel. We brought her to our veterinarian right away who confirmed that she did have a fractured humerus (one of the bones in her arm). In addition to the fractured arm, she also had lung contusions caused by trauma from the fall. We began treating her right away for the fractured arm and respiratory issue, but sadly, she was so badly injured that she passed away overnight that night.
While not the outcome we had hoped for, we are glad you brought her to us so she was able to get treatment and passed away in a quiet and peaceful place rather than outside in the wild.
Thank you again for caring about her and bringing her to our center.
I read it over again a few times, to take it in, because the words were not making sense at first, and then I just cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
On Tuesday Morning, Cricket found another squirrel, this time a full grown adult, and this time, it was dead. My first, and enduring, thought was that this must be the baby squirrel’s mother. Maybe they both fell in the storm on Thursday morning, and it took the mother longer to feel the effects.
We dug a hole for her, and covered her with dirt, to keep her safe from predators. I couldn’t think of a prayer to say, all I could think of to say was, “This is for baby squirrel.”
And it was.
p.s. Many of these pictures were taken by Naomi Mankowitz (AKA Mom)