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


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful way to honor Little Carlin. He was a most beautiful baby and I was happy to be the one that tried to help. I am Tomo, a member of The Squirrel Board -

The people involved with this board not only care for squirrels and all animals, but go the extra mile to help as many squirrels as possible - not only in this country, but around the world. I was told there are approximately 5000 members globally. That's a tremendous achievement for the boards owners.

But as the finder of Little Carlin, you went above and beyond to try to find him help and on behalf of everyone at TBS, we thank you!

Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful, caring person, to want to help save little Carlin!! Yes, The Squirrel Board is filled with amazing, loving people that are very knowledgeable about squirrels! Thank you to all involved!

Anonymous said...

I rescueda pidgeon one time. Found it fallen from a nest. No feathers or anything. Didn't even know what kind of bird it was. Raised it to adulthood. It thought I was it's mother. Wouldn't go away. Stayed in our garage at night and pooped all over our car. We started putting it in a little cage at night so it wouldn't poop on the cars and one morning we found poor Walter (Get it? Walter Pidgeon?) dead. I was devastated. Mike buried him in our woods in back. Walter used to perch on top of my head when I went outside. He would see me from a perching place up in one of our trees and start screeching like a baby and fly to the top of my head. He would stay there as long as I was out in our yard. Very cute. Loved him. Asked about releasing him and was told by people in the know that pidgeons make great pets, just keep him. So I did. Still don't know why he suddenly died. Just know I was his Mom. Interesting though, pidgeons don't open their mouths to be fed. You have to pry their beaks open and force the food down. They are not like robins who open their mouths automatically when presented with food.

Anonymous said...

hi Linda, it's Island Rehabber from The Squirrel Board. You've written such a beautiful account of Carlin's sad story. As a wildlife rehabber I know that often we are called to rescue, sometimes we are called to save, but some other times, hopefully not too often, we're only called to assist the passing of a wild creature from one realm to another. You were called to assist little Carlin, which makes you very special, and I'm happy to know you.