As we’re about to start a new year, which means only a couple of more months before the first new squirrel babies start arriving at the Center, I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to those furry friends that are no longer with us.
By definition, animals that arrive at the Center are already at risk, whether from injury, illness, losing their mother (and her perfectly nutrionally balanced milk), or simply the stress they experience from us trying to help them. But knowing that doesn’t make it any less difficult when we lose them, no matter how briefly they touched our lives.
Warning: Before reading the rest of this entry, you may want to make sure you have some tissues nearby.
I’m not going to tell all the sad stories, but there is one I’d like to share. However, it didn’t involve one of the orphans I actually cared for. (I know this because it was a Fox squirrel in my backyard and I’ve never released any of that type here.)
This guy had caught my eye, not only because he was a Fox, but because he was missing some fur halfway down his tail, giving him a unique and rather artistic appearance.
He was also a bold little thing who would come right up to the glass-paneled door connecting my living room to the backyard to make his presence known, assuming it would prompt me to hand over one of my nutty goodies. (I won’t say how often this worked!)
One day, I was sitting on the floor folding laundry when he looked in and I saw what seemed to be a problem with his teeth. I had previously noticed that he had trouble carrying walnuts, but I thought maybe his mouth was just a little smaller than average. But this time I could tell it was something else.
I managed to take some photos of him with my zoom lens and sent them to Ann, the vet tech that volunteers with the Center, to see what she thought. You can see in the shot below how one of his bottom teeth looks longer than normal.
I could also tell he had a problem because, as he was eating, he would gnaw a little at the nut, then throw his head back to finish chewing. Ann agreed that there seemed to be something wrong, but wasn’t sure if it was fixable or not without seeing him. Unfortunately, I had to go away the next day for a week but, shortly after I got back, I was able to trap him in one of my cat carriers.
I immediately took him to Ann’s house and, sadly, it turned out that the little guy had a malocclusion. This is when the teeth don’t grow in properly, which is a serious condition in squirrels. Like all rodents, their teeth never stop growing (which is why they chew so much), so if the top and bottom incisors aren’t aligned, they won’t be able to grind them down. This will result in a slow and very painful death, either from starvation or from possible infection as the growing teeth can puncture the inside of the mouth. (I won’t go into any gorier details than that.)
While the teeth can be clipped safely, this is something that would have had to be done every month or so, which would have meant having to trap him that often, putting him under enormous stress. And even had I been willing to do that, there would always have been the question of what if he wandered off to another neighbourhood—perhaps during mating season—and there would be no one there to help him.
So we made the decision to euthanize him. I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard, but I also know it was the most humane thing we could have done for him.
I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, so I’m going to sign off with a rousing salute to this sweet lad and all the others who brought such joy to my life in 2008. Your presence was a true gift and I will always remember you!