Not to decide is to decide.
Not to decide is to decide.
It is very fitting to begin today’s column with a quote from Harvey Cox, an American theologian. I have just finished reading “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, a British author who raises some interesting ideas about the things we worship in this day and age—especially in this country.
But, back to my indecision. A few months ago, two eastern grey squirrels were admitted to Peace River Wildlife Center after their nest had been blown out of a tree. The tiny neonates, eyes not yet open, had been injured in the incident. The boy had a few scrapes and bruises and the girl had what looked like spinal trauma. She did not appear to be able to move her back legs, but since she was eating well from the soft nipple on a syringe, I gave her 24 hours to see how she would progress.
The next day, she seemed a little better and was good company for her brother. I would wait to make a determination until we got in another squirrel to keep the boy company. Day after day, the girl squirrel showed minor signs of improvement. She was moving her rear legs, albeit weakly. I finally got a couple more orphaned squirrels and added them with the siblings. They all got along fine and since they were in a tiny container, huddled together in a ball except for feedings every few hours, there seemed no rush to determine her fate.
Soon enough, the three boys and one girl squirrel were weaning, starting to eat on their own. (We rarely name the animals in our care. Most of them are in and out fairly quickly, and our policy of “hands-off” to raise them as wild as possible, keeps us from getting to know them on an individual basis or getting too attached to each patient.) It was time to move the boys to larger housing. They needed more exercise, to start climbing, and building muscles for their upcoming release—but the girl squirrel was in danger of injuring herself more if given too much freedom.
I realize this would have been an ideal time to take the plunge and euthanize her, since her chances of survival in the wild were nil. She had severe paresis (weakness) of the rear legs, but she was still getting along fine otherwise—eating, peeing, pooping—everything that makes a squirrel a squirrel, except for the scurrying.
When the boys were transferred to an even larger outdoor pre-release habitat, Beryl the girl squirrel was placed in their larger indoor cage. Well, there we go. Now she has a name. This is not getting any easier! I assumed she would sit on the bottom of her tall cage, pining for the loss of her siblings and be bored because she couldn’t climb. I was decidedly wrong. She used her front legs to climb, leap, and scurry all over that cage, and she had just enough strength in her rear legs to help balance and catch herself.
So, Beryl the girl squirrel has become a fixture in my kitchen. Her cage is next to my stove, a seemingly odd choice of location for her, but the only place in my house that I have any hope of keeping the dogs and cats away from her cage. She has made friends with the mini dachshund, but I’m afraid the terrier would not be so magnanimous. The cats must know she is there, but have deigned to ignore her since she is obviously beneath their level of predatory mastery. (They are quite proficient killers of catnip mice and cardboard coasters. Yes, even my treasured (stolen) souvenir from England.)
Beryl is one of PRWC’s education animals now and a wonderful ambassador. She takes over for our previous resident squirrel, Leonard P. Squigford. Squiggy was born with a portion of his brain not developing fully, and so his balance was poor. While Beryl’s movements may appear somewhat similar, the reason for her incoordination is due to a spinal cord injury and weakness in her rear legs.
While I know that spinal trauma is not something that will resolve over time, she does appear to be living well with her limitations. As happened with Squiggy, she may reach a point where her condition deteriorates and I am forced to make the decision to put her to sleep. But for now, she is happy and healthy. I am content caring for her and very happy not to have to make that decision yet.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM