The squirrel who broke my heart
It was an ordinary Sunday. I was out with Pixie on our morning walk, enjoying a fresh spring day. I heard a scratching, scraping sound behind us, which I thought must be leaves blowing across the sidewalk. Something made me turn around to look, and what I saw twisted my heart.
A squirrel was dragging himself from a neighbor's front lawn to a tree. His back legs were crushed flat. As he reached the tree and hugged himself to its base, I fumbled with my phone and tried calling an emergency vet for help, who directed me to try the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, a non-profit organization that has a hospital for found wildlife.
"I'll do whatever I can to help you," I told the squirrel, as I searched on my phone and found the number for the museum. I had to listen to the outgoing recording multiple times to make sure I heard all the information correctly. I felt slow and clumsy and inadequate, but I finally gathered that the hospital would be open to receive injured wildlife within an hour and a half. All I had to do was get the patient there.
I flagged down a neighbor who happened to be up and about.
"Could you just watch him, please?" I asked, after explaining the situation. He agreed and I ran back home with Pixie, leaving her in the house and grabbing what I would need: a carrier with a blanket inside, a towel, and two pairs of gardening gloves.
My squirrel was where I left him - clinging to the base of the tree.
"What's the plan?" the neighbor asked as I layered the gloves to protect my hands; if my squirrel did bite me, at least there would be something there between his teeth and my skin.
"I'm not sure," I answered. Thinking back to the many times I had had to crate a cat, I tipped the carrier on its end, so the opening pointed upwards. "I just want to help you," I told my squirrel. He pulled his body higher up the trunk of the tree. "Please let me help you."
In what felt like slow motion I draped the towel over the squirrel's head and cupped my hands under his arms. Gently, I lifted him from the side of the tree and lowered him into the carrier, then secured it shut.
From there it was a waiting game. I waited until it was time to head to the museum, then once I got there I waited until it was my turn to submit my patient. After they took him from me, I was left with a flyer that advised me to call in 4 days if I wanted an update.
The eternal optimist in me hoped my squirrel would be okay. Volunteers from the Lindsay Museum had often visited my school when I was growing up. They would introduce us to a hawk or a possum and tell us about how it had been found injured, and how they had helped to rehabilitate it. Couldn't the same happen to my squirrel?
I waited 4 days and then called, telling myself it was highly unlikely that my squirrel had survived. Even so, when the volunteer on the other end of the phone let me know that my squirrel's injuries had been too great, and that he had been immediately euthanized to end his suffering, my heart broke. It just wasn't fair, I thought, for his life to be cut so short, and in such a cruel way. To think of him as happy and active one moment, then broken the next was too much to bear. And yet it happened, and happens all too often to people and animals alike.
I only shared my heartbreak with the limited few who I knew would understand, and not think less of me for becoming so invested in the life of a creature many would consider a pest. I think of him each time I pass by that tree and hope that somewhere over the rainbow bridge he is up to his usual squirrel hijinks, hiding nuts, scolding jay birds, and leaping, running, and climbing on his perfect squirrel legs.