July 31, 2015

A squirrel story

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2012

By George Orndorff
For the Salisbury Post

This is the story about a little gray squirrel named Lucky.
First, squirrels are not just furry animals that climb trees.If you raise them from when they are just tiny­­- 23 grams, no hair, and eyes closed- you get a special insight into them.
Squirrels are smart, aware of their surroundings, and have their own personality. Some are more dominant, others more easygoing, and others just plain fun to have around. They play with each other, and with us, if we would let them. They work together and in groups to solve problems, work for the betterment of the group, express affection and fear. They warn others of danger, have dislikes, and all the other emotions we do.
They can wrangle their way into your heart, and stay there forever.
Lucky came to us one spring day, completely by chance as do all of our orphans. He was one of a litter of three baby squirrels found by a local farmer walking around a small farm pond on his property.
He noticed that a squirrel’s nest had blown out of a nearby tree during a storm overnight. The farmer looked inside the fallen nest to find the baby squirrels, pinkies as they are called because they are hairless. Their eyes were closed and they were unable to survive on their own.
The kind farmer took the three little baby squirrels still in their nest to a local veterinarian, who called Becki and me to come get them. The three little guys were not in very good shape. Being out in the cold without their mother all three had pneumonia, were dehydrated and hungry.
We quickly went to work on them. To fight the pneumonia we gave them an oral antibiotic medication. To help with the dehydration I gave them shots to get liquids into the body by injecting lactated ringers under the skin using a very small syringe. Although this does sting the squirrel a bit, and has been known to bring a tear to my eye from time to time, it is the best and fastest way to rehydrate the little guys. We would sub-ue and feed them every three hours, six times a day, keeping them in a box with a lid and warm on a heating pad.
Despite our best efforts, Lucky’s sisters didn’t make it.
I was not about to give up on Lucky. Lucky was not gaining weight as he should, so we began feeding him every 2 hours, and he started to gain weight, two grams in one day, which is a lot when you only weigh 26 grams to begin with.
He was still no bigger than my thumb.
Day by day he got better, good enough that after he ate he would enjoy lying on my leg with me rubbing his back ever so softly until he would fall asleep. At that point I would place him back in his little warm box on the heating pad.
Day by day, Lucky grew healthier and bigger, until that great day when his eyes opened up and he could see the world around him. It had appeared that all of our hard work had finally paid off for Lucky.
We had always been told that you should raise squirrels with other squirrels so that they know that they’re are a squirrel, not just a funny- looking person with a tail. We had to find Lucky a buddy or give him up to someone else who had a squirrel that needed a buddy. I did not like the idea of giving him up one little bit.
Our problem was soon to be solved. The same vet we got Lucky from called to say he had another litter of baby squirrels for us to care for. When we picked them up we found the saddest bunch of little baby squirrels we had every seen.
All of them were missing at least one toe, bitten off by something, maybe a larger male squirrel or a rat that had found the nest. To our surprise all three made it, gaining weight, recovering from their wounds and getting more lively. Once the three, now known as the Kids (Yogy and his two sisters, Lefty who was missing a toe on her left front paw, and Beverly) opened their eyes we could try to put them in with Lucky, but there was another problem.
Lucky was twice their size, and being male, he would more than likely reject them as playmates and might even try to hurt them. But we wanted to try, so one night after everyone was fed and ready for bed, we first put the Kids in the large container and then put Lucky in – and waited.
Nothing happened. Lucky just did not pay any attention to them. So we left the room to give them time together to see what would happen. After a couple of minutes we heard some noise, but nothing to be concerned about, and 30 minute later my curiosity got the best of me and I had to go look and see.
To my surprise there were the Kids, all three sound asleep, all in one corner of the box in a pile, with Lucky on the outside of the pile stretched out as though he were keeping the Kids all together. At first my thought was that the Kids just did not want anything to do with Lucky and he was left out of the group to fend for himself – but this was later proven not to be the case.
The following day as we fed first Lucky then Kids, something more amazing came to light. As we fed the Kids one by one and then placed them back into the box, Lucky would very carefully push the Kids with his nose back to the corner of the box where they sleep. This was not as easy as you may think due to the fact that the Kids kept wandering off. Eventually he was successful though.
When all three Kids were in the corner lying down and still, Lucky then pulled a piece of fabric we had placed in the box as bedding over the Kids to cover them up and then crawled under to join them. Lucky was neither the outsider or the aggressor; he was instead taking care of the Kids, keeping them together, and warm, despite the fact that he was only a baby himself, just a little bigger and a little older then the Kids.
After that night we took to calling him Uncle Lucky and his Kids. It was amazing to watch. After every feeding Lucky would gather all the Kids up and put them to bed. Now this sometimes was not only a real job but quite comical to watch. Lucky would get two of the Kids in the corner and the third one would take off across the box to somewhere else. Lucky would set out to retrieve that one and another one would walk off. He would get the new retrieved one back and go after the third one, but in the meantime another one would walk off. This would go on for some time, but finally he would get all three cornered and to bed, even if he had to lie on top of them holding them in place until they would finally fall asleep.
Lucky had turned out to be quite an expressive little guy in the way that he took care of the Kids. As the Kids grew, Uncle Lucky still lived up to his name. One day I looked in to see what all the noise was in the squirrel boxThere was Lucky lying on his side while one by one the Kids would jump on him, wrestle about playing for a while then move off to allow the next one to have a turn. This went on for what seemed forever, and to watch it was more fun than a bag of squirrels, so to speak. The way that Lucky would care for and play with the Kids was amazing.
Once I looked in on them to see Lucky giving piggyback rides, or squirrel-back rides was more like it. One at a time, one of the Kids would climb on to Lucky’s back; he would walk them about the box then return to the others so that the next one could get on for their ride. It was like nothing I had ever seen or heard of.
The day did come that Lucky and the kids outgrew their box in the kitchen and needed to go into a new home in a large cage in the hangar. Growing yes, but still being bottle-fed, Lucky and the Kids went into a wire cage with a wooden box for a home.
Again Lucky was up to the task taking care of the Kids, showing them around the cage, teaching them how to drink from the water bowl without getting water up their nose. Next Lucky started to teach the Kids how to climb, having only learned himself a few days earlier.
One day, there sat Lucky on top of the nest box, leaning over trying to get Yogy to climb up the box. It was not working; Yogy just could not get up the side of the wooden box. So next he tried to get Yogy to climb up the side of the wire cage; this worked better. Yogy could hold on to the wire better then the wood and climbed the wire to the top of the box. Now at the top of the box Lucky reached out to Yogy, holding his front paws and helped him safely over to the box. It was amazing. Once on the top of the box Lucky praised Yogy by grooming and playing with him. After a bit it was time to get Yogy into the box by carefully climbing over the side and into the hole on the side of the box.
Again, Lucky proved just how unique a little squirrel he was. Leaning over the side of the box he showed Yogy where he had to go. Yogy looked over the edge but was unable to reach the hole. Lucky got behind Yogy, held on to his rear feet and lowered Yogy down to the hole. Once Yogy grabbed the edge of the hole Lucky released his hold on Yogy and allowed him to get into the box.In the days after, Lucky one by one taught the other Kids how to climb and to get into the nest box by themselves. When it came time to eat, Lucky was always first to the bowl and last to get something to eat. He would wait and make sure that the Kids got something first, and when a fight would break out over a nut, he would stop it, making sure that everyone got something to eat. This pattern of parenting went on and on.
Lucky got bigger and so did the Kids, and the day came to open the door to the cage and let all four of them loose to the wild.
This can be a happy day and a sad day all in one. Happy in the fact that you were able to raise from such a small baby a squirrel big enough and healthy enough to go out in to the world on their own. Sad because your baby is leaving home and you may never see them again.
I opened the door to the cage and stood back. First to come out and climb on the outside of the cage was Lucky. Next came the Kids, one by one joining Lucky. Soon, the Kids were off. Down the cage across the deck, across the grassy yard to the closest tree and up they went.
Lucky, now sitting alone on the cage, started his exit, down the cage across the deck. Put when he got to the edge of the deck he stopped. He sat there for a couple of seconds and turned back and looked at me for what seem a long time.
We stood there looking at each other, me looking at this little wonder of nature that came to me by chance, hairless, blind and now ready to go out on his own.
With his big eyes he gave me a look as to say “Thanks for everything; I’ll never forget you.”
And then he was off across the grass and up a tree, and gone.
I thought that that would be the last I would ever see of Lucky or the Kids. A couple of days later while just standing on the deck looking at some birds in a tree, I felt something scratching on my shoe. I looked down and there stood Lucky. He climbed up my leg to my belt and turned his back to me – he wanted his back rubbed, just as he used to do.
I see him most days. He comes and ask for peanuts, or he just comes and sits with me.
If you have doubts of this look at the photo with me sitting in my swinging chair, typing this story on my iPad. Now look at my foot. That’s Lucky sitting on my foot, watching me with great interest.
He sits with me now and then and together we enjoy each other’s company. I hope that I give him as much enjoyment as he gives me.
I have always been told that with every life experience you should learn something.
So what have I learned here? What I have learned really just confirmed what I already knew.
You should never judge someone by their size or importance, but more by how much love and enjoyment they bring to others.
Even a little gray squirrel can add something to our lives if we just let them, and they will make the world a little happier place.
This is a story about a little gray squirrel who came into my life by chance named Lucky, and he is my friend.
George Orndorff lives in the Gold Hill area and rescues squirrels with wife Becki, who is a licensed small animal rehabilitator.