I don’t usually do much personal posting but Labor Day weekend was unusual to say the least, so I guess this post can be as well. We knew going into it that this would not be a laid back farewell to summer. Our daughter and her family were coming for one last visit before fall, school, soccer, etc. We had a beach trip planned, but with hurricane season upon us some dead limbs in our backyard posed a risk, so we had also scheduled some tree trimming.
The excitement started the first night when everyone arrived. We went upstairs to put the twins to bed and our son-in-law found water beaded on the wall outside a closet. Inside were damp clothes and a wet wall…the drain to the air conditioning unit in the attic was clogged and leaking. Let the fun begin! Several hours later, deliriously tired we fell into bed.
Next came the tree trimming and the true beginning to the Great Squirrel Adventure. One half of a cherry tree had multiple dead limbs and there was one large branch with lots of dead leaves that I merely thought was dying along with that part of the tree. The tree guy said taking it down would be “a piece of cake” and set to with his chain saw. But just as it had started with a near plumbing catastrophe, nothing would be that simple this weekend.
That cluster of dead leaves turned out to be a nest, and as soon as the limb hit the ground we heard distressed crying. The intense chirping sounded somewhat like a large bird chastising us for making it homeless. In reality there on the ground was a baby squirrel calling for its mother. I took it into the house. Instinctively my daughter put it inside her shirt to keep warm, while I went back out to check on things. More cries! This turned out to be the twin of the first squirrel, who had handled the fall, but not the separation from her sibling. Calls to our vet brought the news that the only local person who really knew anything about squirrels was away for the holiday weekend. Great!
A car ride to the vet and trip to the drug store later we had kitten formula, syringes, Pedialyte, a warm fuzzy pet blanket, cotton gauze, and a heating pad with an automatic two hour shut-off (An upgraded safety feature!)
Following lots of online research we learned: 1) Squirrels are a protected species in North Carolina and we were breaking the law by harboring one. So what about two? Would that upgrade the crime to a felony? 2) The babies were probably about 3 1/2 weeks old – Eyes still closed but fully furred, tail with hair but smooth not fluffy 3) First priority: we needed to hydrate for shock – hence the Pedialyte, the web’s second best choice to Ringer’s Lactate which only certified rehabilitators could get. 4) That squirrels need higher fat and calcium so they need squirrel forumla (esbilac), and that the average vet doesn’t know about wild animals [web statement] and that puppy formula would have been better than kitten formula. Too late for that news. Also it had to be introduced gradually in an increasing ratio of water to formula and 5) !!! That the mother squirrel might still come back for them – at least one website said so. Certainly that would not have been true while all the chain sawing was going on but we were determined to try. So once everyone was gone, we tied some branches back on to the base of the cut tree, filled a shoebox with leaves from their original nest and a warm towel and secured the box to the branches. Hovering on the porch at a distance we kept watch so they wouldn’t fall out of their nest, and to see if their real mother would return. No such luck! We took them out three hours later, rehydrated, and put them and their box back in the branches…and hoped. No mama in sight. So with the sun setting and the temperature cooling, we brought them back into the house.
Researching deeper we dug up the last, most important, and most alarming fact: 6) That squirrel mothers lick their babies after every meal to make them pee and poo. Yeah, you guessed it, ….there. (And yes, I am glad that isn’t a human requirement, though it would probably make for great population control.) Sooooo…. we had to mimic that licking with wet cotton balls or damp paper towels or the babies could die! (uremic poisoning). Now I understood why it is illegal to have a baby squirrel without a license – mothering them is not for the faint of heart!
Last, but not least, in the night that lay ahead, even though we only had to feed them every 3-4 hours the heating pad had to be constantly on. Babies that young cannot sustain their body temperatures…and that meant someone had to get up between feedings to click it back on every 2 hours! (So glad for that safety upgrade!) Night two of the holiday that celebrates labor, but is supposed to be care-free, was not looking good. Of course, fearing I wouldn’t hear the alarm I set extremely low so not to wake everyone, I found myself anxious and barely sleeping. The good news was I didn’t have to go to work while trying to figure this all out and there was another ‘surrogate mother‘ in the house. My daughter shared the duty with me!
So Saturday dawned. I fed them at one A.M., got up and turned the heating pad back on at three, my daughter fed at five and I got up again at seven for the heating pad …and barely had I renewed the babies’ warmth before I was confronted by the exuberant arrival of our twin grandchildren, excited to check on the other twins, whom they had named Lucky and Lou, assuming, like them, these had to be a boy and a girl. So no sneaking back to bed or sleeping in for me, just like the squirrel twins these two also had to be fed upon waking….even before I made coffee!
Sleep deprived, but with caffeine ingested, we got ready for the nine o’clock feeding. We had managed to feed the little squirrels with the gradual increase of formula to water as specified, but NO Output had occurred all night. The instructions were to duck their hind ends in a bowl of warm water if the ‘mimic licking’ didn’t work…but if they peed then how would we tell? Determined to save these babies at all costs, my daughter was relentless in her mothering attempts. I decided to call the vet before they closed at noon, and they gave me a website where I could locate another rehabilitator. I think at this point I was ready to go any distance to locate help.
It was then that the fates decreed a change. My daughter got Lou to pee and poo and I found one. A genuine, certified rehabilitator, at the Outer Banks, where we had hoped to go to the beach! And she was home…and she answered the phone…and she knew what to do. The relief was beyond sweet.
So we packed up the car with children and squirrels and beach paraphernalia. Opening the windows and foregoing the air conditioning to keep the babies from getting cold, off we went. An hour later we had found squirrel paradise and the quintessential squirrel mom. She had Ringers solution, warming boxes, syringes with actual nipples, varying sizes of cages, and an outdoor palace for older babies…not to mention acres of pines for a permanent home. And she was kind, and caring, and motherly to all of us as she assured us we had done well. Then it was time. We bid farewell to Lucky and Lou…ise. (No we didn’t have the heart to tell our twins that they were both girls.)
So what did I learn from this great Labor Day adventure? How many mothers does it take to raise a squirrel? Only one if she is the real one or the right one. But two moms, my daughter and I, could instinctively mother anything, and learn what was needed, as we labored together to save these twins. And I learned loving the little ones made it possible to give them over to another mom, the right mom. Adoption works! Lou and her sister were both Lucky….and so were we. I know if called upon I will undertake another squirrel adventure. I many even go and visit Lucky and Lou and see if they remember me. But maybe not. Perhaps good Labor is its own reward.