Katrina Babies

December 15, 2007
By Thomas Grenier, Baton Rouge, LA

The sun had just come out on a morning in late August of 2005 as my family and I left the safety of our house to survey the damage left by Hurricane Katrina. There was an eerie gray calmness to the morning, but the downed trees told a different story. As I was walking around cleaning sticks and other debris from my yard, I noticed an intriguing blue lump in the front corner of the yard, just under the Magnolia tree. Looking closer, I realized that the lump was actually three baby squirrels, each the size of my thumb! On first examination they seemed to be dead, but the warmth of my dad’s hands as he picked them up seemed to spark a little life into them. Excitedly, my dad and I hurried them inside, completely forgetting about the cleaning of the yard, so that we could try and keep that little spark of life in them from leaving. As their ice blue shade began to change to grey and then to a warm pinkish color, a small sigh of relief began to emanate from everyone in the household.

Later that afternoon, once the squirrels looked warm enough, we brought them to the LSU Vet School hoping that they would adopt them. However, a shoebox with two abandoned baby squirrels outside the front door wasn’t a good sign. Indeed, having already taken in over 200 baby squirrels that morning, they refused any more adoptions. Knowing that if we didn’t take the other two squirrels in the shoebox they would have no chance at life, we decided to take them in, bringing us to a total of five orphaned squirrels. Since we knew nothing about baby squirrels, much less the raising of them, we were in for a real challenge.

Upon our arrival home, we immediately began to research information about squirrels on the computer. We read about many requirements for raising squirrels, including their preferred food, which happened to be regular puppy formula. When we found out that we could get it at Jefferson Veterinary Hospital, we immediately went there and bought some. For the first few hours after returning home with the formula, the squirrels wouldn’t drink it and they still could not open their eyes. After the first squirrel acquired a taste for the formula it seemed that he sent a telepathic signal to the other babies, telling them that the strange liquid in the syringe was actually good, and then they couldn’t get enough. Unfortunately, one of the squirrels from the shoebox didn’t catch the signal and also had a bad head injury. Therefore, he died the next morning. This was a great loss to us because we were all starting to become attached to them. Because of this loss however, we began to double our efforts to save the remaining four squirrels.

After a few weeks of the same routine of feeding them several times a day and keeping them in the bathroom at night to avoid the cats, their eyes opened and they began to crawl. This meant that we had to keep a closer eye on them and move them to our game room so that they could continue to develop their strength. During the time that we were not there, they were kept in a large mesh cage that my dad and I made. When we were there, we allowed them to come out of the box to run, jump, climb, explore, or hide in the box springs of the sofa. On the other hand, an advantage of their growth was that we didn’t have to feed them with a syringe every three hours because they could now eat nuts and drink from a bowl. Nonetheless, we still had to clean up after them, and they kept us up at night with their squeals and scampering. Despite both this and the constant scratches from their jumping, I had become very attached to the squirrels.

Weeks went by and the squirrels started growing a full coat of fur and began to resemble adults. We could also see each of them developing distinct personalities. For example Girlie, the sole female, started to be the most loving and gentle one. Dot and Smudge, named for the spots on their noses, were the rowdiest and strongest of the bunch. Baby, the squirrel from the shoebox, was the smallest and seemed to avoid interaction with the others. During movies and other times of the day when we were just relaxing, they would either sprawl out on our shoulders or crawl into our shirts to stay warm. They also chased each other around my neck and waist as if I were a tree and jumped from person to person. As they continued to grow and become stronger, I realized that they were getting too big for us to keep. I could sense that my family had the same feelings, but still I didn’t say anything. One can imagine why I was so reluctant to think about the departure of these new, furry members of our family. When the dreaded conversation finally arose about where they would go to live out their lives, we decided that they couldn’t be released in our yard because of our cats. A good solution was found when my grandfather offered his yard where there would be fewer threats from predators and countless pecan trees. It’s a squirrel’s paradise!

At the time I believed that all of our hard work in raising them had been unimportant, because my new best friends could no longer stay at our house. Now as I look back though, I think to myself that that opinion was extremely selfish because it’s not about what I want but what is best for them. As it turns out, we can still visit them and they still come sit on our shoulders, though much more cautiously. They have even taught their children to trust us too. My grandfather who used to consider squirrels to be pests has also fallen for their charm and hand-feeds them every day.

As I felt Girlie sitting on my shoulder the other day, I realized a couple of things. First, I learned to have more respect for my parents because I know that raising my brothers and me is a lot harder for a lot longer than raising the squirrels. More importantly though I realize that had we been like those people who stubbornly left their squirrels in a shoebox outside of the vet school, we wouldn’t have the extreme satisfaction of saving helpless little creatures and they wouldn’t have had a chance to live a happy life. I think that it is important for us to care for those who are less fortunate than we are, whether it is human or creature.

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