As the human population grows and expands, it takes over and destroys areas previously populated by wildlife, often without as much as an offer of a minimal alternative living arrangement for the “Original Land Owners”.
Displaced animals, deprived of their natural hunting grounds, are forced to become scavengers, rummaging through human garbage and destroying man-made gardens. As a result they are disliked by humans and are considered to be an annoyance. They are labeled as pests and hunted down by the ones who are responsible for their predicament in the first place.
One such victim of man-manifested problems are squirrels. Because squirrels adapt so well, they live amongst humans and thrive, becoming more adapted and less fearful of mankind every day. Being used to human company also means being around them more often and therefore being more of a focal-point for any perceived damage or mischief.
It is quite unfortunate that we humans have such a negative relationship with these amazingly creative and adaptable creatures. If just for one moment we could put our biases and misconceptions aside, we could see what an amazing zest for life and sense of humor these little creatures possess.
A few years back, while out for a drive, I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a dead gray squirrel at the edge of a curb. Although she lay there not moving, something inside me told me to stop and double-check. I walked over to the poor creature and to my amazement discovered that she was fully intact and alive. However, she was in shock. Laying on the ground, curled up in a little ball with her beautiful tail covering her head she was literally paralyzed with fear. She could not move even as I picked her up with my hands, carried her to my car and placed her in a little cardboard box.
Fearful that if I took her to an animal shelter she would be put down, I took her to the only vet-clinic I knew that treated exotic pets. Although they were used to rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters, a squirrel was a whole different story. However, the examination showed that, apart from a bruise on a side of her head, physically she seemed to be alright. They speculated that she might have just been grazed by a passing car, which sent her flying to the edge of the road and into shock. This probably saved her life, by preventing her from running into the middle of traffic. She did, however, need time to recover. So I decided to keep her until she was well enough to be released. The vet felt it would be best to give her some precautionary booster/antibiotic shots before sending her home. I named my little patient Tulip.
Unfortunately, Tulip had severe allergic reaction to the shot. Her entire body swelled up and broke out in hives. In addition, the graze on her head must have been a little more severe than we thought, as she had a little difficulty with her balance and coordination. Her recovery took longer than expected. By the time she was ready to be released it was December.
I felt her chances of survival were greatly diminished by the fact that she still wasn’t 100% and did not have an opportunity to prepare food and lodging for a long, cold, Canadian winter, so I allowed Tulip to stay with us until spring.
While nursing Tulip back to health I tried to handle her as little as possible, so that she doesn’t lose her wild instincts. She was kept in a big wire cage and taken out only to receive her medicine and get her wounds redressed and disinfected. However, as time went on, I started noticing that she was watching me constantly from the cage and every time I made any eye contact she would run around the cage, hang upside down from the top by her feet, pick up toys from the bottom of the cage and throw them in the air while swinging. This made me laugh, which in turn made her more eager to interact. She would come to the front, grab the bars with her front paws, look intently at me, then try to open the lock on the door.
Eventually she figured out how to open that lock and it didn’t matter how much I tried to reinforce it, she would figure out how to open it again. Once out of the cage she would climb on my shoulder and wrap herself under my chin. Then she would place her paws on each side of my face and look intensely into my eyes, as if saying, “I know you mean me no harm. Thank you”.
She always made me laugh and after a while I gave up trying to “imprison” her in her cage and let her freely run around my room. Surprisingly, she was not the slightest bit afraid of my Rottweiler or my cats, and they seemed to accept her as one of their own. It was quite something to see them all sitting next to each other, eating out of their bowls.
As March weather approached I started leaving the window slightly open so that Tulip will get familiarized with outside smells once again, but she didn’t seem to be interested. Than one day, early April, I came home to find a hole in my window screen and Tulip gone. Something (or some squirrel I hope) must have finally caught her eye.
I don’t know what happened to Tulip, but I chose to believe that she found her soul-mate and lived out the rest of her life happy. I hope I was able to show her that not all humans are cruel, selfish and incapable of loving and respecting other beings. I hope she understood that I will forever remain grateful to her for teaching me how amazingly intelligent, gentle and playful squirrels truly are.
Thank you Tulip for bringing laughter into my life and for sharing with me your love, your playfulness and your wonderful sense of humor!