|A trio of native red squirrels gobbling seed on the boardwalk.|
|Cute as a button, a red squirrel poses for my camera.|
|Riley observing a park denizen.|
Today, as we neared the end of our walk, a strange thing happened. A small grey squirrel - a juvenile - came racing up to us. But unlike most park squirrels, it didn't pause a safe distance away to see if we'd toss a peanut, it ran right up to Riley (much to her excitement) then under her, only to arrive at my feet and then climb up my leg like a tree. It kept going till it reached my shoulder where it perched for a while before heading for my pocket. I didn't quite know what to do! The wee thing seemed to be in search of food so I fished out a Charlie Bear (a thumbnail-sized, cheese-flavoured dog treat). It was happily accepted and the fuzzy little rodent crept into the crook of my arm to enjoy the snack. When it was finished, I put the squirrel on the ground and attempted part ways but it then headed straight for my husband's leg and began to again ascend skyward. Not being quite the squirrel lover I am, he didn't enjoy this experience so I grabbed the squirrel, placed it back into the crook of my arm and offered it another Charlie Bear. It was content.
By this time, passers by were marvelling at this unusual squirrel behaviour. General consensus was it must have been hand-reared by some well meaning human who then left it in the park to fend for itself (it nipped me twice, so perhaps had outworn its welcome with its foster humans). Whatever the case, the little thing had absolutely no life skills other than figuring humans were the ticket to shelter and food. Being the softie I am, there was no way I could leave it in the cold, dark park to be killed by the first predator or less amenable dog that happened along, so I stuffed the squirrel into my camera bag, we headed to the car and then made a bee line for the Critter Care Wildlife Shelter.
Critter Care is located just a few kilometers away on the other side of the park. We had our fingers crossed there would be someone on site that late in the day willing to accept the little foundling. Happily a few personnel were still there, and though they wearily me advised me that I should probably have left the squirrel where I found it, they took pity and whisked my camera bag, complete with squirrel, into a back room. They had me sign a form and said they'd keep the youngster for observation (they determined that the squirrel was indeed a girl, and that she was a bit undersized to be out on her own) then they'd release her, ideally in a more appropriate location where proper wild squirrel behaviour could be learned. As I departed, the young woman who had assisted me said, "thank you for caring". The folks at Critter Care are good people who are very committed to the welfare of the animals who come their way, even a physically healthy but behaviourally inept young squirrel.
Today I'm hoping Nutkin, as I casually named her in honour of my childhood favourite author/illustrator Beatrix Potter, is safe at the shelter and that the Critter Care staff and volunteers will do their best to ensure her needs are met. A word to the wise: if you find a baby squirrel, please don't take it home and try to raise it as a pet and then later abandon it when it grows too feisty to be fun any more. Leave it with its parent or, if you know that isn't possible, consult a local wildlife shelter for advice. There are appropriate ways to help wild creatures without having them become so dependent on humans that they can't survive on their own. Sadly, I'm doubtful that Nutkin's prospects are good. At this time of year she should be storing food for winter and figuring out how to survive, and she simply doesn't have the skills nor much time to learn. However, I am hopeful that with a bit of luck Nutkin will be OK.
If you wish to do something positive for the wild animals in your region, consider making a donation to your local wildlife rehabilitation centre. They exist on shoestring budgets and are always in need of support to continue their work of assiting injured/orphaned wild creatures. A few years ago I donated my time to illustrate a children's book called A Day By the River for Critter Care to use as a fundraiser. I still have a few copies left and if you'd like to buy one ($15) I will forward 100% of the funds to the shelter. Visit my website for more information: www.catnmousedesigns.com (go to the "shop" page). To learn more about Critter Care, visit their website: www.crittercarewildlife.org.
Good luck, Nutkin. I wish you well.