Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Little Katherine, the Big City Squirrel

Little Katherine. Photo by Michael Geraci. 

My daughter Katherine, who I still call Katie, lives in Brooklyn with her partner Michael and their sweet dog Muxy. When Katie was walking Muxy one Sunday night a few weeks ago, she came upon a tiny squirrel in big trouble. The not-quite-weaned little thing was on the ground, not far from some rat poison, and blood was coming from its mouth and nose. Katie and I both suspected that it had eaten some of the poison, and knew time was of the essence in getting it help.

When I was a wildlife rehabber, I never had to deal with victims of rat poison, and wasn’t sure what to tell Katie to do if she couldn’t get help that night. Here in Duluth, we now have a really good local rehab center, Wildwoods Rehabilitation Center, but I didn’t know much about what was available in the Big Apple. Katie had already had an interaction with the Wild Bird Fund, not far from Central Park, but this was a Sunday night, when the rehab center was closed and no one would be answering phones.

But she knew that someone would be on site providing routine care and evening feedings until 8 pm, and because she and Michael are both kind and optimistic people, they decided to bring it there and ask what they should do. It was already after 7 pm, and since no one would be there after 8, public transportation was out of the question. So they took the squirrel for a taxi ride.

If New York City is thought to be cold and impersonal, New York City cabbies have an even scarier reputation. Katie and Michael had the squirrel fairly well concealed, but at some point, the cabbie realized they were transporting wildlife. When they explained, he could have kicked them out or at least scolded them. Instead, he turned his meter off. It’s ever so easy to become jaded about the human race, but individual human beings can be far, far kinder than a cynic might expect.

Anyway, it turned out that that rehab center was mostly focused on birds, but the person on duty told them that the Urban Wildlife Alliance (a.k.a. Woodland Kingdom), a short walk away, actually specialized on squirrels, so they rushed right over. The woman who is treating her, Arina, verified that the squirrel was a female, and started calling her “Little Katherine.” She said that rat poison was not the issue at all—the baby was still too small to be picking up solid food, and was very emaciated. Something had apparently happened to her mother, and she must have gone searching for her and fell hard out of a tree. They received a message from Arina the following morning:
Dear Katherine and Michael,
I have good news regarding little Katherine. While I was a little worried last night she is now doing much better and developed quite an appetite. She still has some trouble drinking but with the medication the swelling in her mouth is going down and she is feeling much better. She has two friends so far, both new arrivals.
Arina followed up several days later with this:
Little Katherine is doing fantastic. She is growing and gaining weight each day. She loves her new siblings, especially her best friend Florence. 
Though Katherine and her group belong to the youngest, I'm planning on letting them overwinter in "winter-camp" in the Berkshires. We work together with a bird sanctuary that has big outside enclosures that are empty during the winter. We can use them for the young squirrels who this way have several months to grow big and strong instead of fending for themselves through their first harsh winter. They do very well up there and then go free in spring. The doors will be left open and there will still be food inside so the squirrels can come and go, explore the woods and find their own territories in their own pace. A perfect scenario.
I’ve had a few more squirrels than I should in my own yard, pigging out at our feeders. But there’s something impossibly endearing about them, especially baby squirrels, and something lovely about living on a planet where people do what we can to alleviate the suffering of even lowly little rodents.