Last weekend I thought we were watching an animal die.
We were walking Lily on a Saturday night. It was late for her, about 11:30, but still early for us. As we left the house, we saw what I believed to be a rat. I involuntarily sucked some air between my teeth.
"What the hell is that?" I said
"I... don't know." said TB, "But it looks like a squirrel."
"Squirrels aren't that small," I countered, "And they don't hop like that."
Turns out TB was right, it was a squirrel (I owe him a Coke). A small, clumsy one who didn't seem to understand how to walk without weaving. The "me" of squirrels, as it was. It didn't seem to mind us getting closer to it, which made no sense, if you've ever seen how fast a squirrel can move. We hemmed and hawed about what to do but in the end, we decided that if it was still there when we came back from our walk, we'd do something to help it.
As we came back around, there was no sign of the little guy. Crisis averted, we went into the house, disposed of Lily's leavings and gave her a treat that smelled like garbage, which she loved. And then we stared at each other.
"Should we look for the squirrel?"
"It's late.. it's probably just sleepy."
"Aren't squirrels diurnal?"
"I don't know."
"Yes you do. This is exactly the kind of thing you know."
"Yeah, you're right. They are. Maybe we should look for it?"
"How would you pick it up though?"
"I could wear gardening gloves. What would we put it in?"
"I could get one of Lily's towels."
And so at about midnight, TB crept around our neighbourhood, whispering "Here squirrel, squirrel, squirrel" (or so I assume) until a few minutes later, he came back to the house with a triumphant look on his face and a tiny ball of fluff in his hands.
The fact that the squirrel had only gone a couple of feet and didn't do more than make angry squirrel noises when we picked him up made us think something was wrong with him. He was small, not baby-small, but small enough to be at least an unruly toddler. But he had a fine looking tail and didn't appear to be injured so we put him in our backyard. I got him a dish of water and a cracker with some peanut butter on it (Lily was furious that I was giving her favourite food and her travel water dish to some sort of dirty rodent!) and we stood nervously over him. We ended up putting him in our dilapidated shed to protect him from the elements and whatever nighttime creatures would fight him for the aforementioned peanut butter. Then we named him Champ (after this scene, naturally) and went to bed.
That night I dreamed he dropped on me from above. I did not sleep well.
In the morning, we took a look in the shed and TB announced he had vacated the premises. We high-fived our squirrel recovery skills and went about making brunch for my mama for mother's day. TB idly checked his phone and noticed a text from our next-door neighbour.
"Hey, I think that squirrel you were trying to catch ended up at our place. I took him in. My mom's coming over later- should we drive him out to the country?"
Crapski. Not only was the squirrel not out of the woods yet, but our neighbours had seen us traipsing around after rodents on a Saturday night. Our cred will never recover.
We told our neighbour to come over with him and started googling what the hell you do with a lethargic squirrel. We gave a call to the Humane Society but they said that if he was bigger than your palm and had a bushy tail then he was a juvenile and they recommended just setting him free. When our neighbour arrived with him in a large box, however, we realized that would basically be a death sentence. He was smaller than we recalled, for one thing, and this was driven home when he began suckling at our neighbour's finger. Ah, geez.
We called back. Yes, this is the squirrel people again. He seems like he's younger than we thought. Like, he doesn't know how to walk right, and he has trouble getting over curbs. And he's trying to suckle. He won't survive in the city. Please just tell us crazy people we can do something.
Finally, they relented, said they took in squirrels, and if we could get Champ out to their place, they'd see what they could do for him. Unfortunately, they said that if he was just too young and helpless they would euthanize him.
We considered our options.
"He'll die out here in the city. He'll get hit by a car."
"But we might be sending him to his death anyway. He might have a chance on his own... with help."
"We are not adopting a squirrel."
"He can be an outdoor pet!"
"That's not a thing."
In the end, we decided a chance at a free life courtesy of professionals who knew what they were doing was probably better than a life of junk food and dog chases with dumb old us. But as our neighbour folded Champ back in the box, and we watched him toss and turn a bit, my heart ached for the fluffy little guy. I hope he turns out to be a fighter.
It was appropriate this went down Mother's Day, this group of people coming together to help something small and vulnerable the best we could. Though Mothers get a lot of (well deserved) attention this time of year, it's a nice time to think of all who are caretakers of those who need it. To all lovers of lost causes, thanks for your kindness towards the small things in life.
And hang in there, Champ.