Friday, March 20, 2009

Little Carlin

Photo from the Wikimedia Commons,
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Several weeks ago, around 3:15 pm on a Saturday afternoon, I saw a badly injured squirrel lying on its back, alive but twitching as if in the throes of death. One of his front paws was really, really swollen and obviously part of his ailment. I said a silent prayer that death would come quickly and returned home.

Later that afternoon I left the apartment again on another errand and darned if that squirrel wasn't still outside in the same spot, alive and twitching. He seemed no closer to death's door than he had been an hour earlier. It would be dark soon. The temperature was dropping. High winds and snow were predicted. How much lingering agony was I willing to let him endure? Apparently I was going to have to do something. But what?

I returned to my apartment and googled "wildlife rehab NY" on my computer. A long list of names, addresses, and phone numbers appeared on the screen. I left telephone messages with the rehab people who lived the closest to me.

While I was waiting for my calls to be returned, I clicked on the Google link for The Squirrel Board. The first message thread in The Squirrel Board Forum was entitled Emergency (Life Threatening) Help Needed. Perfect! I posted my predicament, or rather, the squirrel's predicament. I wondered how long it would take for someone to notice my new post. Within only 2 minutes, someone responded. "Can you scoop the squirrel into a box or a container of some sort?" If I could catch the squirrel, this person seemed willing to help. Using an old cat carrier, I was able to slide the squirrel inside. He squirmed during the maneuver but had no real control over his body, so it was pretty easy, actually. By 5:30 pm I was the nervous guardian of a dying squirrel in a cat carrier. I put the cat carrier in our warm bathroom, covered it with a towel to calm my patient, turned off the light, and closed the door. No worries about him escaping though. He couldn't really move at all, except for that occasional twitch.

After more message posting and several phone calls, a rehabber from about 30 miles outside NYC arrived around 9 pm to take the squirrel to a veterinary hospital. He died before the vet could do anything for him, but not before the rehabber gave him a name -- Little Carlin, a Celtic name meaning Little Champion. Somehow the fact that the rehabber gave him a Celtic name, without any inkling of my connections to Irish music, was confirmation that I was meant to try to help him.

The vet's autopsy revealed that Little Carlin had a missing front left foot and a severe de-gloving (skin ripped off) injury to the leg exposing the bone. The entire leg was infected and necrosis (death of the cells) had begun. The leg injuries looked at least 5 days old based on the bone. There were lacerations to the face near the eye, with some eye damage. The internal organs looked normal. There was no sign of poisoning. The twitching and inability to control his body had apparently been due to his very advanced infection. The cause of death was trauma.

I wondered if Little Carlin had an encounter with a red-tailed hawk (yes, we have those in NYC) or an off-leash dog. Or perhaps he got his leg caught in the spokes of a bicycle ridden by one of the many carry-out food delivery guys who speed through our apartment complex. Maybe he was hit by a car. I'll never know. Despite his severe injuries, though, the veterinarian felt that if Little Carlin had been treated right away, he could have been saved. Bummer.

This squirrel episode haunted me for many days. I've rescued animals before -- cats mostly, but also a few dogs, a pigeon, a baby squirrel, and a ferret. My rescues have nearly always had happy endings. I can remember only one other time when the animal died. Why did God put this poor miserable creature in my path when all I could do was give him a warm place to suffer and die?

I decided the reason had more to do with teaching me than with saving him. Little Carlin's "rescue" put me in touch with several wildlife rehabbers in New York City. I found The Squirrel Board, a wonderful resource with all sorts of information. After reading what was posted there, I went on to read other informative internet sites about squirrels and wildlife rehabilitation. Hopefully the things I've learned and the people I've met will help me to be more effective in some future situation.

I recommend everyone check out The Squirrel Board, even if you have no intention of scooping up injured squirrels. Read up on all the things squirrels eat and enjoy the wonderful pictures. The Squirrel Board Forum has over 3600 registered members, and probably many more readers. (Anyone can read the message threads, but only registered members can post.) So check it out - bookmark it. Whether you live in the city or in the country, you never know when you might find yourself in need of assistance with a squirrel. You think it won't happen to you, but you just never know...

Other Squirrel Resources:

Articles offering general information about squirrels
Tree Squirrels (by the Humane Society of the United States)
Squirrel (Wikipedia article with lots of sources)
The Scholarly Squirrel (a website that describes itself as "a definitive online resource for the squirrel enthusiast")

Squirrel Rescue & Rehabilitation
The Squirrel Board
Squirrel Rehab (a set of photos on Flickr)

Squirrel Books
Squirrels at My Window: Life With a Remarkable Gang of Urban Squirrels, by Grace Marmor Spruch (I read this enchanting book years ago and loved it.)
Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, by Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie E. Ferrell

Squirrel Blogs (yes, of course, blogs!! How could I resist!)
The Squirrel Cam
Squirrel Chatter
Squirrels, Squirrels, Squirrels
Grey and Red, a Squirrel Journal

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Turtle Troubles

It's been a while since this blog has seen news of my turtles, so I think it's time for an update. As you recall, I have two male Red Eared Sliders. In my post entitled What's in a Name? I recounted our difficulties in naming them. Based on their recent behavior we have reverted to the names my son originally gave to them: Dinky and Doofus. As you might expect, Dinky has always been the smaller of the two, his carapace (shell) now measuring 5" from head and tail. Doofus is now 6" long. Here's a pair of pictures to illustrate how much they've grown.

May 2006: Notice that both turtles fit between the supports
of the floating turtle dock.

September 2008: Now they fill the entire dock!

At five years of age, Doofus and Dinky are solidly into their adolescence and hormones abound. The courting ritual for aquatic turtles begins when the male turtle positions himself face to face with the female and extends both paws so that they touch the sides of the female's face. As the male flutters his paws, his long toenails stroke the sides of the female's face. This fluttering is a definite turn-on and leads to mating. Unfortunately for Doofus, the suitor, no amount of courting will entice Dinky, the wooed, into a role for which he is simply not equiped!

This behavior began some months ago. Doofus would flirt for a while, then get distracted and swim away. But just after Christmas we noticed that the courting had intensified. Doofus seemed unable to do anything else. He chased Dinky around the tank, fluttering those paws like a hopeless, lovelorn idiot! Dinky would occasionally snap back, but when even that response failed to drive Doofus away, Dinky withdrew into his shell and sank like a rock to the bottom of the tank. We tried separating them for brief periods, relegating Doofus to a 20 gallon tank. This strategy did nothing to discourage him. The amorous Doofus resumed his relentless courting whenever he found himself back in the 55 gallon tank with Dinky.

Realizing that courting behavior between two males is an attempt by the aggressor to establish dominance, we came to grips with the fact that Dinky's quality of life was doomed if he continued to live with Doofus. The turtles would have to be separated permanently. Separation meant finding one of them a new home or getting a second tank. Being more fond of the turtles than much of the furniture and miscellaneous nonsense that crowds my apartment, I threw out an old desk and some other useless items to make room for another tank.

I devoted my 3-day President's Day weekend (February 14-16) to Doofus's new home. On Saturday morning, with the help of my husband and son and a U-Haul panel truck, we moved all the stuff I had purchased from a Craigslist seller in Brooklyn to our Manhattan apartment. Saturday evening I cleaned and re-sealed the tank. Sunday I cleaned the 2 Eheim filters which were included. Monday I had new hoses installed on the Eheim filters, and by Monday night we filled the tank and put Doofus in his new environment. Voila!

The new tank is still a work in progress. At the moment, as you can see, it has only the necessities of life -- water, filtration, UVB lighting, and a floating turtle dock for basking. It looks pretty bare right now. I'll post more pictures when it's all decorated and finished.

Finally, the turtles are at peace. They show no signs of missing each other. In his 90 gallon tank, Doofus has room to dive deep and stretch his legs. He basks happily under his lamp and begs for food whenever I pass by. Dinky's 55 gallon tank seems more spacious now that he's the only one in it, and he often plays happily in the current of the output hose. He can bask on his dock or sleep on his brick without being knocked off every time he gets comfortable. What pampered turtles they are! Of the two, however, I can't help but think Dinky is the luckier one. Not only did I save him from the fate of most red eared sliders, from shell rot, and from drowning (see Lucky Larry), I set up another tank to free him from harrassment. What next?

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement