The Sidewalk Squirrel, One Year Later.

A year ago tomorrow,
my dear friend called to tell me that she had found what looked like a baby squirrel curled up in the middle of the sidewalk while walking her dog, who wanted to eat the little thing.  She told me that she was terrified of rodents, but didn’t want it to die, and said it didn’t look like it had much time.

I drove over to where she reported seeing the baby, and lo, in the smack middle of a concrete path with absolutely no cover to speak of, there lay a tiny lump of fur.

No sign or sound of mama or other babies nearby, I removed my sweater and gently scooped the baby up, turning him and running my fingers over him to check for injuries.  He was quiet, and cold, but breathing.

A postal-service truck pulled up to the curb near me as I held the little one, and a mailman hopped out.  There were two babies here yesterday, he said, watching.  One looked like he was able to climb better, and disappeared into this planter here.  I never saw a mother.

He wished me luck as he went on his way.

The best, wisest decision would have been to turn the baby over to a certified rehabber.
But I selfishly envisioned him living a grand life in my immediate neighborhood a mile away from where he was found, starting in the magnificent ficus and pepper tree “kingdom” in my apartment’s sideyard…
and backed with the experience and advice of my friend and coworker who has rehabbed squirrel babies, and the advice of GTers, too!, I instead took him in and named him Philip, after Philip “Pip” Pirrip, the protagonist of Great Expectations, who was a gentleman, and an orphan, too.

I got very lucky in how it turned out.

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My neighbor kindly took over formula feedings when I had to be away, and once Phil started to wean, we both regularly went out and gathered local fruit, seeds, grasses, branches, and nuts for him to sample in addition to rodent block and veggies.  I started to take Phil outside in a smaller cage for hours at a time to (re-)familiarize him with outside sights, sounds and scents, and then, we camped out overnight.

Phil was with me for a month.  On the morning of April 6, I took his cage outside, opened it, picked Phil up, and launched him at the nearby pepper tree.

It has been the greatest gift that he has not only survived, and thrived, but has still visited from time to time.  He maintains wild wariness around everyone aside from an occasional close-range visit with me.

This is Phil today.  Being Philip.

I have uploaded many of my Phil videos to a public playlist on YouTube, organized chronologically starting on the night he came home:
https://www.youtube….9Wfm14WvS0eTLR-

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile:
I’m out here feeding a visiting Phil walnuts at my table. I go inside to get another memory card for my camera, come back out and he’s running around. Okay!
So I sit and drink my coffee while I watch him. A few minutes of this and I happen to look down and see tiny coffee handprints leading away across the table and in his direction. So basically, I’ve been drinking squirrel-mitt-flavored coffee this morning.

The culprit:

I am quite poor at rehabbing wildlife.

I had to let Phil go early to let him get established before termite tenting.

But he doesn’t yet know how to build a nest for shelter and warmth.
And it’s raining, his first rain. He has been sleeping out in the open on the highest, most sparsely-covered fork of the pepper tree.

When a tiny squirrel bobs at you with hopeful eyes, knowing that as a mammalian baby, his absolute favorite pastime is snuggling, do you let him into your hoodie despite his status as Rehabbed Wildlife / Go Forth and Be Free and Unadulterated by Human Contact?

Yes. Yes, you do. Because it’s cold outside, and wet, and you could keep him warm and know that he is at supreme peace.
Look at this face and tell me you wouldn’t want to give this mammal child warmth, too.

But one heartfelt, questionable decision led to another.

I snuggled him for a little while this evening, sitting on my porch, but dusk was approaching, and so was Phil’s window to climb the pepper tree to his sleeping spot. I had to squeeze my hoodie pocket from left to right like a toothpaste tube to squish him out despite his protesting grunts. I gently plucked him off of me, set him on the top of the cage that is still sitting on my front porch, and gathered my things; then, I again plucked him back off of me, and set him on the top of the cage, then carefully rushed indoors to wait out the waning light and give Phil time to go to bed.

Thirty minutes later, when a good twenty minutes of darkness had passed outside, I gathered my purse, phone, and keys to head out to grab dinner. I opened the door into the darkness and was gutted to find myself face-to-face with a damp squirrel baby shivering in the dim porch light, standing crouched with his tiny hands clasped in front of him, at the very edge of the cage closest to the handle of my door. He tilted his head and fixed a glistening eye squarely upon me. He had waited for me where I had left him.

A tiny, furry, barbed dagger of guilt lodged in my chest.

The very moment the screen door was open wide enough to permit his passage, he leapt onto me and rooted for my hoodie pocket. I gently dislodged him, placing him into the nest in the cage, and walked swiftly away and down the driveway. I was startled by a flurry of movement on the ground to my right, barely perceptible in the dark; he had followed me. I let him catch up and hop on, then walked him back to the cage, wrestling him into the nest before locking him in for the night. I then turned the porch light out completely.

When I returned with dinner, all was quiet in the cage. I snuck past while he hopefully stayed asleep.

Bringing him back into the apartment is the worst thing I could do with the impending termite treatment. I don’t want to give him any reason to try to find a way in while the gas is present.

But it’s so hard to know he’s out there alone in the rain. It’s the only reason why I hope that we get a break in the rain soon. Little Phil needs to learn to build his own shelter.

In the meantime, though, makeshift mom will have a nest here for him. Outside.

That moment when

…while sipping tea on your front porch on a fine Friday evening, you happen to glance over and catch a field mouse ever-so-nonchalantly cruising into your apartment via the very-slightly-ajar front door. You ever so subtly lean over to pick up your camera, which is your constant sidekick, but not subtly enough. Mouse sees you and books it back in the direction from whence he came. You quietly rise and tiptoe over to the alcove, following in its tiny footsteps, completely honed in to catch the slightest sound or movement amid the patter of raindrops….so very carefully, so very quietly…and then, out of nowhere,

WHAP!

you are pelted hard in the neck with a sharp, furry, half-pound grunting beanbag.

And you realize that you are in search of the source of months of rodent-caused destruction in your apartment with the help of an eager juvenile rodent.

Had you asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be doing on April 8, 2016, no, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have answered with this.

And yes, I jumped five feet and dropped my flashlight.