A Few More Nuts in My Life

A few readers have asked for an update on the baby squirrel we found days before leaving on a two-week trip to my brother’s house. When we first came upon the little guy, he had been trapped in a storage building and was badly dehydrated. But since the wildlife rescue groups we reached out to were full at the time, we had no choice but take him with us. On a 12-hour drive.

“It’ll be an adventure,” Don said. And it was.

The drive up was surprisingly easy, as Rudy Squirrelianni was still so young he was content to lounge in his carrier or the pouch of my hoodie. He would pop out every now and then to guzzle some formula or nibble a bit of fruit, but he’d soon duck back down into his safe little den. During the ensuing two weeks, however, Rudy matured so much he determined he was ready for some time at the helm, and spent a good bit of the drive home positioned squarely on the steering wheel, his eyes on the road.

I’ve spent time with such a variety of creatures over the years — birds, rabbits, turtles, lizards, dogs, cats, rats, fish, ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice. But I believe this squirrel might be the best of them all. I have learned that squirrels are highly intelligent, quick to recognize not only faces, but voices and names.

Most surprising to us was that Rudy was quickly litter trained, to some degree. We had no idea this was even possible and initially believed we were blessed with the most considerate of all squirrels, until a bit of research revealed that many will naturally make use of a litter box as it enables them to hide their scent from potential predators. (NOTE: Rudy is not, by any means, 100% on the mark with this. Let’s just say we no longer take the risk of ordering anything with chocolate sprinkles, just in case.)

Squirrels, especially ones that come fully furred as Rudy was when we found him, tend to be rather hardy and aren’t too difficult to successfully raise, with a bit of research at the front end to help dodge making potentially fatal mistakes. He took to special squirrel formula like it was the best tasting drink ever made. And while he still likes to start and finish his day with a bottle or three, he has almost completely transitioned to solids. Unlike my daughter when she was little, Rudy will taste absolutely anything that is handed to him. If it is not to his liking, he will politely hand it right back.

On the days when I work from home, Rudy is either on me or bouncing around my home office, which doubles as his bedroom. We cut down a small tree and secured it against a wall near his cage so he can practice jumping from branch to branch and develop the kind of coordination and muscle development he wouldn’t get if locked in a cage.

He requires a tremendous amount of freedom to exhaust himself — otherwise, he is literally bouncing off the walls. Along with his stockpile of walnuts and hazel nuts, I’m fairly certain Rudy has a secret stash of Red Bull and Monster. He will play hard for hours and then collapse on my shoulder or across the top of my head, flattening himself in a way that makes it look as though his landing came as a result of a fall from a 10-story building.

So, if squirrels are this wonderful, why don’t more people have them as pets?

There are a few answers to that.

First, they are illegal to own in most states, considered a nuisance animal.

Second, if someone were to meet me in person for the very first time, they might think I’ve been attempting to juggle razor blades. A squirrel’s toenails are incredibly sharp, and since Rudy is dedicated to improving his jumping skills and has designated me as home base, I’m riddled with holes. If I were to run, I suspect I might whistle.

And then there’s what Rudy has done to my home office. If someone were to visit this room, they might wonder if a woodchipper hadn’t exploded immediately in front of an industrial fan. I no longer bother to put the vacuum away. The last time I heard the Hoover make the kinds of sounds it does now was back when Legos and beads were still a thing with my girl.

And finally, there’s Rudy’s fondness for hiding food. He’s a hoarder of the worst sort, and we have to be watchful of where he’s tucking his morsels to avoid the fragrance of rotting food and the tiny flies such things can attract.

While I dread the day when we set Rudy free, we realize it does need to happen and are preparing ourselves — and him — as best as we can. It will be hard, knowing how badly the odds will be stacked against him. In the wild, most squirrels don’t survive a single year, with as many as 70 percent of them becoming prey. In captivity, they can reach 20 years.

Complicating matters is that Rudy isn’t terribly afraid of cats, although he does remain wary. Still, my greater fear is the many hawks and owls in our neighborhood. We’re battling with whether to release him here, where he can come to us if he isn’t able to find food on his own, or take him somewhere far more remote, with fewer neighborhood cats and not quite so many hawks.

It’s going to be tough to determine when Rudy is ready. From all I’ve been reading, he can’t be too lean, since he would be at risk for starvation or succumbing to cold. And being too fat would cause him to be slow, easy prey.

And then there’s the issue of his coat, which isn’t furred out enough for an extreme change in weather.

But one thing is for certain — I’m going to look into how to become a registered rehabilitator, so I can do this again.

Karin Fuller is a newspaper columnist and short fiction writer who resides in Atlanta.

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