His name was ‘Collar.” He came to us with two siblings. He was the only squirrel we’ve ever raised who, even as a baby, loved to climb my shirt, and nuzzle my beard.
All went well at first. Then his nest-mates started sucking on his abdomen like babies suck their thumb. [Critters just do that, no one is sure why.] We separated them temporarily, then he started sucking on his own bottom. [Again, who knows why?] To prevent that, I crafted a collar out of x-ray film to prevent the self-suckling and the certainty of infection. He hated that collar! He was like ‘The Squirrel in the Iron Mask.’
He had to stay isolated from his mates. Finally, he healed and stopped sucking on himself. So, off came the collar. But by now, he was too old to re-introduce to his siblings. His scent now foreign to them, they would attack him as a territory threat. Nevertheless, Collar grew fat, happy and active.
Then he stopped eating. No longer would he come out of his cage. After a day of this, I went in to examine him. I took him from his cage and felt his stomach. A large mass. “Tomorrow we go see the vet, old boy,” I said. He looked at me, then nuzzled my beard. He hadn’t done that in so long. It felt good.
I didn’t know he was saying good-bye.
I came home late that night and thought to go check on him. Sabrina said, “It might be better if you let him sleep.”
I thought it over. Yeah, he’s been puny. We’ll see what the vet has to say in the morning. He’s better off to be sleeping.
But Collar wasn’t sleeping; he was dying. I didn’t know.
Sabrina and I know some of our babies die before we can bring them to health. She and I have buried a few, never without sorrow; never without commending their now-lifeless bodies to our Creator. Still, I wish I had known death was so near. I couldn’t have saved him from dying, but I could have saved him from dying alone; I could have bought him out to my chair, wrapped him to my chest and rocked him until it was over. I could have done that. I would have done that. But I didn’t know. But you can’t un-ring the bell; the past may not be summoned back by longing for it…
Still, rehabbing accompanies you to hearts warmer than you might suspect:
A vagrant man found an injured squirrel. He took it up and found the phone number of one of our rehabbers. Could she come get it? [We typically don’t retrieve.] He spent his last twenty dollars on cab fare to speed the squirrel to her. Now, with no way, save walking, to get home, she gave him twenty dollars. Two good hearts there.
In a neighborhood lived a woman who rehabilitated birds. One day, she heard a knock on her door. There stood a homeless man she had sometimes seen about the neighborhood. He thrust out a small bird to her. “I found her fluttering in the road. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being hit by a car. Can you take care of her, missus?” You see, he had learned through the ‘grapevine’ that this lady not only helped the injured, but knew how to do it.
A fanciful cover may betray a disappointing book, as, conversely, thread-bare clothes and an unpleasant bodily odor may misrepresent a caring spirit. Homeless maybe; heartless, no. Such deeds set a smile on the face of Heaven, for Heaven looks not at the appearance, but upon the deed.