Birds and Squirrels and Bears, Oh My!

Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.  No, we are not going to trade recipes for bear meat—which, by the way does not have a sanitized name like saying you are eating venison instead of deer or more to the point, Bambi’s mom.  I looked it up.  I also had to Google whether or not actual people actually eat bears.  The first site listed in the affirmative column is Alaska.  No surprise there.  I’ll bet Sarah Palin has some good recipes for bear meat.  And Mexican Sea Bass from the last time she crossed the ocean to get there.  I Googled that one too.  Turns out it’s not true that she said we should send all the immigrants back across the ocean to Mexico, but it’s still funny.


So what brought up this ursine discussion?  There are days at Peace River Wildlife Center when we feel like our efforts are in vain.  We rescue, stabilize, feed, medicate, nurture, support, rehabilitate…in short, we do everything we can and still some of our patients don’t survive.  Some of them don’t get to us in time.  Some of them are just too severely injured that they die soon after admission or we can only help ease their suffering by euthanizing them—a “good” death.  Occasionally we will keep a patient with a poor prognosis alive against our better judgments if they do not seem to be in any immediate discomfort.  Every now and then, one of these long shots pulls through and it makes our day.


Recently one of our home care volunteer teams alerted us to the fact that one of their baby squirrels this season was not developing normally.  This couple, Hugh and Martha, have been raising squirrels for PRWC for over 10 years and know what to expect at certain milestones in an infant squirrel’s growth.  This baby was not behaving normally when he should have been starting to walk and eat on his own.  He nursed okay from the nipple on a syringe, but was more spastic than he should have been at his age, and getting worse instead of better each day.


It was obvious at that point that “Squiggy’s” brain function was not normal.  He may have been injured when he fell from his tree or he may have been kicked out of his nest because of a congenital problem.  Whatever the cause, the abnormality appears to be in his cerebellum—the structure at the base of the brain that is responsible for motor control and coordination.  He is learning how to deal with the intention tremors, the jerky motions that occur when he tries to focus on something like eating.  With a little help he has already mastered eating out of a dish and drinking out of a water bottle.


He would never be able to care for himself in the wild and will never be released, so he is in training to be an education ambassador for PRWC.  He is “just” a squirrel and many people may not understand why we would go to such extreme measures to make him comfortable and extend his life.  What can I say?  Sometimes you just don’t feel like eating bear, so you dress him up in a tutu and teach him how to ride a unicycle.  Not really an appropriate analogy.  We will not be dressing the little squirrel in ballet attire or asking him to do anything that is not natural for his species.  He will strictly be an example of our southwest Florida native fauna and maybe a model for what a difference an extra dose of love and patience can make.  And can’t we all use more of that in our lives?

by–Robin Jenkins, DVM