An extraordinary thing happened today. I opened the blinds that cover the sliding glass door to my back porch and found a young squirrel clinging to the screen. It didn’t look sick, but then again it didn’t seem in the least bit surprised or upset to see me or my very large, very excited orange cat. It simply clung to the screen, moving up and down and letting out a sharp little squeak every now and then.
Unsure what to do, I sent a quick text to friend who rehabs wildlife for a living. While waiting for her reply, the squirrel abruptly climbed down and ran away. “Problem solved,” I thought, and went back to my writing. Imagine my surprise when the squirrel returned a few minutes later with a friend. Same size, same bright button eyes and bushy tail. Now I had TWO baby squirrels on my screen. “Surely this isn’t normal,” I typed to my friend.
“No, not normal, but they are too young to survive on their own,” said my friend the rehabber. “Try to catch them and put them in a box or a cat carrier. Then, call George.”
“Who’s George?” I texted back.
“Rehabber who specializes in squirrels, opossums and otters.”
Well I confess the whole idea seemed a bit preposterous. I once lived on the edge of a wildlife preserve where we were routinely visited by elk, bear, coons, white-tailed deer, antelope and once a mountain lion. If there was one thing I had drummed into my head time and time again, it was “Don’t feed or touch the wildlife!”
The other thing I couldn’t quite figure out was how I was supposed to catch the little critters. Squirrels are wild, nervous and fast. What was I supposed to do, sneak up on them, throw a towel over their heads and whisk them into the carrier?
So I sat and watched and tried to feel what was the right thing to do. There was something about the baby squirrels, clinging so tenaciously to the screen, that felt important. These weren’t just any squirrels, I realized. They were MY squirrels, my little gift from the universe today and it was up to me to decide what to do.
In the end, I put on my mittens, grabbed an old towel and put a soft piece of fleece in the cat carrier before going out “catch” the squirrels. The instant they saw me the second squirrel ran off with an indignant squawk, leaving his baby sister to fend for herself. I stood quietly for a few seconds, then picked up the towel, wrapped it around her and gently detached her toenails from the screen.
I wouldn’t say she enjoyed the process but she didn’t fight terribly hard or try to bite. And I confess that holding her – feeling her heart beat a mile a minute in the palm of my hand – was a moment of pure joy. For the few seconds it took to transfer her gently to the carrier the wall between “them and us,” “wild and tame,” “human and animal” came down. I was doing what I am always encouraging kids to do – showing empathy and kindness to another living thing. It felt right. It felt good, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was the one who had been given the gift – been reminded that the single most important lesson we can teach our kids is to lead with their hearts.
George, the squirrel rehabber, met me at a local mall. Before transferring my little friend to his carrier, he took a moment to open her mouth and show me that she was too young to have teeth. “You did the right thing,” he said. “She can’t eat solid food yet.”
Tomorrow I will be on the lookout for the second baby squirrel and any additional lessons the universe has to teach me. - Jena Ball