The Baby Squirrel
— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
11 September 2018
It seems we keep getting them younger and younger. This time it is a baby squirrel, 2-3 days old, lying quietly in my hand, tiny, soft, still. He had to be in shock—he was found on the ground, dehydrated and cold. His mother and siblings were dead, most likely from a cat. A rough introduction to the world.
He has gradually been accepting the eyedropper full of milk, tiny paws waving and grasping at the hard glass, instinctively trying to knead his mother’s belly to stimulate the flow of milk in a perfectly choreographed dance. What a poor substitute we can offer! Nutrition. Safety. Warmth. Cleaning. But not a loving mother’s tongue to stimulate and reassure. Not milk available on demand as needed, at just the right flow. Still, the urge to live directs his behavior and he adapts and sucks. We have to be very careful not to give him too much or too fast or he could choke, or get fluid into his lungs and die of aspiration pneumonia. He has no siblings to snuggle against—they are all dead. We can only offer cloth without the feel of Life. Alone he lies, warm in his cloth bed. I wonder about adding soft buffalo fur to his bedding……
The good news: we have successfully rehabilitated baby squirrels into full adult vitality before, and they seem to be fully functional. But it pains our nurturing hearts to raise an orphan absent its mother. There is nothing that replaces a mother and the natural dance that occurs between any mother and her infant. We do the best we can, relying on science for what we don’t know as well as listening to a deep instinct common to more than humans. But do we hold him close to feel our heartbeat and life next to him so he won’t be lonely, or will that bond him too much to humans and make him unreleasable, unable to live a full squirrel life? These questions come up with each new baby, and in a way are unanswerable. Our nurturing hearts yearn to comfort; our intelligent brain says maybe that’s not in his best interest.
12 September 2018
This is day three of much anxiety. We had relief after he learned to suck and showed healthy interest in the milk. Now there is anxiety as I cannot get him to urinate or defecate. I haven’t yet found the right touch to induce him to release. I try repeatedly, gently, but not too long so as not to make him sore. It will be a while until he can excrete urine or feces on his own. Then—just now—success!!!!!! He won’t die of a burst bladder or constipation! He has a chance!!!!!
19 September 2018
Today when I reached into his box to pick him up to feed him, he gave a sudden, agile leap. His nervous system is waking up! Plus he complained when I cleaned him, giving a little chitter of annoyance. This is good…
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.