Sometimes what we think we see as a clear path one way leads us in an entirely unexpected direction…
Warning: NOT for the faint of heart. Seriously, if you melt over small, furry, baby critters, just skip this one.
As Winter begins to thaw, Spring is quickly coming up on us, and I’m reminded of a story that happened a couple of years ago… It was early Spring, the morning after a harsh wind storm when I took my dogs out to see what trees and limbs had fallen and assess what cleanup work awaited us. As I rounded a corner of the house, I heard a high-pitched squeal that set the dogs off at a charge.
They surrounded a pile of kindling partly covered by two, larger but still small, branches that fell directly on top of the pile. Convenient, eh? The squeals continued and the dogs, unable to reach the source, backed off to let me deal with the strange creature making such a ruckus. Turns out it was a teeny-tiny baby squirrel. I assume it came down with the branches the night before, and then either fell or squirmed further down into the kindling pile. I had no trouble reaching directly down in to the mess of kindling to pluck the babe out, so I figured, “ok, I guess it’s up to me to take care of this one.” It stopped screaming the instant I picked it up.
Odd for me to consider raising it, but since it survived the storm, survived the fall, the dogs couldn’t get to it yet I had no trouble, it seemed like a pretty obvious sign to me that I needed to do what I could for the little fella and re-release him (her?) when he was big enough to take care of himself. He was so small, almost half the size of my palm, his eyes were still closed, and he was pretty much naked with what looked more like a rat-tail than squirrel. Without me, the tiny thing really had no hope of survival.
Besides, it was far too small to go to all the effort of squirrel-stew 😜 Kidding! Really any squirrel would be far too much effort in my opinion… Unless we were really, really desperate for the meat… And had no other available sources… It would probably have to be post-apocalyptic circumstances I’m thinking… Probably…
Around this time, one of our cats had also been nursed indoors for a while healing from an injury. Our cats are generally outdoor cats, but they come and go as they please. They do what cats do – keeping the rodent population down so the snakes don’t move in, insist they need attention only when they want attention and are not shy about sitting in front of your face to get it, and spend the rest of the time teasing or terrorizing the dogs… You know, being cats. About four months ago, one of the cats, Luna, came in with a nasty dog bite (not from one of ours) on her backside and had been indoors exclusively ever since – for four months! She healed up remarkably well, but it was like she’d gotten used to being a lazy, indoor cat or something. For a while, especially while she was still healing and during the coldest part of our winter, we indulged her and let her recuperate in her own time. But, for the last few weeks, I thought her attitude seemed more and more depressed, whereas usually by this time she would be excited with Spring fever. Luna just didn’t seem to be bouncing back, and I’d begun to wonder if something else was wrong with her. Now this particular cat is very vocal – she announces her arrival to every room, voices complaints of being startled awake, loudly proclaims she’s being petted whenever she’s being petted, etc. She also hates the other cats and really loves our dogs. She especially loves to rub up on the dogs’ muzzles, and it never fails to throw them for a loop not knowing how to respond to such attention from a cat. Recently, though, she hadn’t been all that social, preferring to just sleep in a basket in the corner of our bedroom or on top of the refrigerator. In fact, the most activity we saw from her lately was when she tried to get into the library where she knew she wouldn’t be bothered (the dogs aren’t allowed in there without us so the door remains closed a lot of the time). Even though she’s pushing around 10-12 years old (we’re not sure), she’s never before acted like this, and I was really getting worried for her. My husband and the vet both thought she may just be getting too old to go outside like an active, outdoor cat and recovering from that injury probably took some of the life out of her. I was advised to “be patient.” As long as she was still eating, drinking and relieving herself normally, there was probably nothing to worry about. I disagreed but what else could I do?
Over the next four days following the storm, I cared for the baby squirrel. On Day Two, its bare peach-fuzz already started to look a little darker, more like fur. By Day Four, it was already beginning to fluff out like a squirrel, looking much less like a rat. I fed it sugar-water and goat milk when it woke, but most of the time it slept in a box of rags I had set on the vanity counter. We made sure to keep the vanity door closed so that none of the other animals curious about the squirrel could harass it. I sewed together a little pouch with the intention that once it started acting more curious and active, I would take it outside and let it roam in the gardens nearby while I worked. I figured that once it began to forage on its own and finally disappear up a tree, that would be that and my part would be done. I even tucked the babe into the pouch once, partly to see how it would take to the idea, partly to make sure it was going to fit comfortably, and partly to help it get used to “riding”. The squirrel took to the pouch and riding just fine. He just snuggled down in and went back to sleep. The morning of Day Five, I fed and cleaned the baby squirrel before preparing to go out like usual. While I was getting ready, I noticed it had more energy and was skittering around the counter top exploring. But, by the time I was ready to go, it had snuggled in for another nap so I left it.
I got about 50 yards from the house when I decided today was the day the baby needed to begin exploring outdoors. It had shown some energy and curiosity, it was a beautiful day, and I had no intentions of keeping a squirrel as a pet. When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the box of rags skewed, and a couple of rags were strewn over the box lip toward the sink. For some reason, though it never occurred to me before, I was suddenly worried the little thing would skitter right off the counter with nothing to grab onto to halt the fall. I rummaged through the rags looking to see if it had curled up asleep again, turned out the rags in the sink, and began searching the floor (though there wasn’t much to see on the floor – it’s a floor). Then a sound I’d been hearing since I first walked in finally penetrated my conscious mind: animal rumbling. I turned and sure enough, in a corner of the room behind me was Luna, sit-laying in the classic cat pose with her front paws curled under her, looking as happy and content as I’d seen her in a long while, and purring as loudly as I think I’ve ever heard come from a cat. Sitting about four inches in front of her was the decapitated corpse of the baby squirrel. Literally. Sitting. Posed. Headless.
I was furious! “I put in time and effort to see this squirrel survive, dammit! Did you think I was just fattening him up for you?!” Luna was completely unmoved by my fury, of course, continuing to purr contentedly with half-lidded eyes. My fury lasted for all of ten seconds… Then I laughed. How can I be mad at a cat for being a cat? She hadn’t shown any interest or even awareness that there was a squirrel in the house so I wasn’t specifically looking out for her. Then, despite her usually vocal manner, she had snuck in quietly, without my notice, and got herself locked in the room with the squirrel. Clever cat. Luna was obviously very, very pleased with herself.
The next day Luna resumed her usual Springtime routine patrolling the grounds and teasing the dogs. I guess she just needed to know she’s still got it. Who knew? Even cats sometimes need a confidence boost.