The Baby Squirrel

We were on our way to the Meadows to ride some trails. It was Max’s idea. Our hiking plans had fallen through, since apparently we all needed a relaxed morning at home, so eventually we all set off on bikes (pulling the trailer behind, in case Ben got tired, which he insisted he would not. He ended up in it half a mile into the ride, complaining he was tired).

The boys were tired after a long day at the beach yesterday and a long evening grilling with friends on the coast, hours of tag, and ice cream in the dark. We all slept late today but none of us were as high-speed as we could have been.

Which could be why C stopped behind me. “I think it’s a baby squirrel,” I heard him say. Max and I stopped and looked back. I assumed it was a desiccated critter; we’ve seen our fair share of dead baby birds this year. And then: “I think it’s sick.”

It was moving. This small thing, trying to move. “We should get off the bike path,” C said. Good thinking; it was a busy day on the bike path. I got a stick and approached. There were a few flies on it, determined flies. The gross kind—the kind that look like houseflies except they are shiny-greenish, the kind you only see on dogshit and garbage and gross stuff. I tried to get the flies off. They were not ready to move.

I got some big leaves and used them to gently pick up the poor little creature, which was trying to scratch its ears. I moved it off to the side of the patch, onto some more big leaves. It let out a cry. We watched it. It let out another cry.

“It won’t last long here,” C said.

A decision was made: We’d bring it home and care for it. We lined a small container with napkins, gently put the squirrel into it, and put it next to Ben in the bike trailer. I did a quick check online to find out about squirrel rehab, so we stopped for pedialyte, a medicine dropper, and soft toothbrushes (to brush some fly larvae from its fur) on the way home.

Then we got to work. C started brushing it to remove the larvae (ok, little tiny 2mm-long baby maggots)…..which it turned out the baby squirrel was covered in. Absolutely covered, deep in its fur. And fleas. It had fleas. We got some fluids into it, brushed it, more pedialyte, a dip in warm water to try to wash the maggots off (not too successful), more brushing. We didn’t want to bring it into the house yet but knew it had to be kept warm, so we had it on a towel on the warm asphalt. C brushed and brushed. We checked its ears, and he managed to remove another small pocket of larvae. The little squirrel stopped scratching, curled up, and slept.

It was really dehydrated. A gentle pinch of its skin stayed raised seemingly forever. It wasn’t sucking the dropper, so I put it into the side of its mouth and just squirted.

While C brushed and the kids watched, I went inside to research more about this and also find a wildlife rehab person. It was clear that if we tried to care for it, we’d have to spend the next 12 hours trying to rehydrate it before we could even consider feeding it…..puppy formula. That’s right. You can’t give baby squirrels human infant formula. Puppy formula is the closest thing. Also, it was probably 4-5 weeks old. Fully furred, but its eyes were still closed.

Also, for those of you wondering exactly how long the little guy had been prey to the flies, well, their eggs take 8-20 hours to hatch into those squiggling little larvae. So he’d been on his own for way too many hours.

OK. After five phone calls, I found a wildlife rehab person willing to 1) answer the phone and 2) accept the squirrel. She told us there was a rehabilitator in our town, but that the person wouldn’t take the squirrel if it were covered in maggots and fleas. Awesome. So we’d have to drive 35 minutes to drop it off with someone who would take it.

I broke the news to the menfolk, all of them, that it was time to pack up our adorable and now mostly-cleaned-of-vermin baby squirrel (male, if you must know, and one of the children said, “But I thought only humans had penises!”). We were all kind of sad. I think we’d all envisioned caring for it, helping it get stronger, lots of mutual adoration, and then setting it free in a very satisfying-but-bittersweet goodbye ceremony that was best for all involved.

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No. This was best for all involved, namely, our little baby male squirrel. The wildlife rehab person had an oral medication that would kill all the fleas and maggots, including those inside its ears (and any that might have gotten inside the squirrel). She had the proper fluids. She had the proper formula.

“This is what the squirrel needs,” I reminded them. “We can’t take care of it as well as she can. We need to bring it to her. It has a much better chance of survival. She can help it.”

I filled some socks with cornmeal and rice, warmed them in the microwave, and set them up in a box with some rags. We all got a chance to hold the squirrel, then I put it in the box, had the boys go wash their hands, and off we went.

The wildlife rehabber looked at our squirrel. The maggots were gone. She only found a couple of fly eggs on him. She held him up. “He doesn’t look good,” she said, or something like that. The way he’d stretched out when held up, apparently, was a bad sign.

“He’s pretty dehydrated, right?” I asked. She said yes, that she’d be rehydrating him every two hours for the next 24 hours before she could even attempt to feed him. And no thanks, she didn’t want our leftover pedialyte, because she didn’t use that. And no, she doesn’t use puppy formula; she has actual squirrel formula for baby squirrels. She had two other baby squirrels, she said, of similar age and condition.

“See, kids,” I said, trying to cheer them up as we walked away from what I think we’d all secretly imagined might be a new pet, “she has everything the baby squirrel needs. We don’t have that stuff. She has a real chance to help him grow strong and get well. She is able to take care of him.”

We know nature would have run its course and a coyote or something would have eaten it, but more likely some biker would have killed it, because when we’d moved it off the bike path, the squirrel kept crawling back onto it….maybe because it was warm there? I don’t know. But we couldn’t have just left it to die, even though, when you think about it, it’s just a squirrel and we all know how much I hate squirrels. It was a hurt animal, and we wanted to help it.

And we did. I don’t know if he will survive the night; I will call the rehabber tomorrow to ask. But at least he’s warm and cared for now, and if he dies, he won’t die alone.

Let’s face it: It’s been a tough week out there in the world. Helping a baby squirrel isn’t much, I know, but it’s the first step to teaching compassion, isn’t it?

And now we’re all somehow convinced we need a puppy.

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