My husband, Sterling and I live out in the country, surrounded by beautiful mountains, a creek, and tons of wildlife. Having been a veterinary technician for over 30 years, I have had my fair share of wildlife patients. I really enjoy working with them, but I have developed some hard and fast rules about wildlife at home. I refuse to hand raise baby wild animals. No 2 a.m. bottle feedings, for me, no way, no how. I always turn the babies over to a qualified rescue organization. My husband knows this rule and has been very good about letting baby birds and such leave our farm with the rescue team – until our world was invaded by a funny little monster named Fellar.
Sterling was out mowing the weeds around an outbuilding when he saw what looked like a mouse. As he prepared to kill it (ok, we are farmers!), he stopped because the little critter didn’t look quite right. Reaching down, he picked up the strange, ugly, little bald creature and headed straight to the house to ask me what it was he found. In the palm of his hand was a 3” long, hairless creature with its eyes still closed. It was about a one week old baby ground squirrel. I could not think of any good reason for it to be above ground as the mother would never have allowed it unless she was dead. I suggested to my husband that he put the baby into the closest squirrel hole to where he found the little guy in the hopes that its mother was still around.
Less than an hour later, Sterling found the baby had crawled back out of the hole and had made it another 8 feet to the door of the shop. Obviously, the little bugger wanted someone to take care of him and had chosen my husband as his new momma. Definitely against my rules! I politely informed Sterling that I would not raise a bottle baby and that the little guy would have to go to a rescue group. Sterling quietly said he was going to take care of him himself. This from a man who never raised a bottle baby before!
Well, he patiently and successfully raised “Feller”. The squirrel became his constant companion, often hiding in the sleeve of Sterling’s jacket, peeking out at the world from his safe haven high above the ground.
Sterling is quite handy at constructing stuff. He built an elaborate habitat for Feller including a section up in a tree, a section inside the workshop and another underground. All of it connected by a raceway of pipe. Feller could travel from one area to another without ever leaving the safety of his habitat.
One of Feller’s favorite treats was watermelon. His tiny paws were perfect little hands able to grasp the bits of watermelon offered by Sterling, only he hated to get wet. So he would hold the watermelon with one hand, shake the other, switch hands and repeat while taking quick bites. So funny to watch! He also loved nuts of all kinds. Some he would eat right away, but most he would stash somewhere inside his bedding.
I have to admit Feller and I never got along. As a matter of fact, he hated me. I think he knew I wasn’t exactly supportive when Sterling had decided to bottle raise him. At every opportunity, Feller would try to attack me through the wire of his cage, growling and throwing his tiny 1 lb body against the cage as he charged at me. Did you even know that squirrels could growl? The little monster would leap at the wire of his cage, teeth bared, just to watch me jump. He also tried to charge my dogs. Brave little monster!
As it was my role to keep Feller healthy, I occasionally had to handle him to apply parasiticides, vaccinate, etc. Oh joy. I was helping to keep this vicious beast alive and healthy, despite the fact that there was no love lost between us.
I came up with a technique to avoid getting bitten, but it also happened to really tick Feller off (always an entertaining bonus, if you ask me…) From inside the shop, Sterling had run one of Feller’s pipes directly into a tiny cage in the living room. This pipe had a sliding door in it so that Feller could be confined indoors or outdoors, depending on our preference. I used to close the door so that he couldn’t get in and then tap on the pipe thereby getting him good and angry. I would then put a sock over the indoor opening of the pipe and quickly open the door. He would rush in thinking he could attack me. His headlong rush would leave him trapped in the sock! I would giggle fiendishly as I twisted the sock shut. I had him trapped where I could do his medical treatments, but he couldn’t bite me. Definitely did not endear me to him.
Feller lived to the ripe old age of 7 years. He hated me until the very end, but still trusted and respected his 6’3” tall momma, Sterling.