My Wild Pet Ground Squirrel

Adult Ground Squirrel-- fat n' sassy. Looks like our "Joe Peeper".
Adult Ground Squirrel-- fat n' sassy. Looks like our "Joe Peeper".

No, he wasn't a pocket mouse. He was a baby ground squirrel. Well, come to think of it, I'm not even sure Joe was a he ... he might have been Josephine, but I know he came from the wild and did fit in my shirt pocket.

That summer when I was ten, we finished a camping vacation with a few days of fishing at a High Sierra meadow. I have no idea how my parents had originally found this bit of unspoiled paradise, but we went there for several years in a row.

It was at end of a long, steep, winding boulder strewn road, which turned into a winding rutted dirt road, and across a narrow wooden bridge that was barely wider than our small travel trailer. To me it seemed a scary trip, but once across that bridge, it was mountain heaven.

Sierra Nevada Mountains Painted by Albert Bierstadt about a hundred years before we visited. The trees are bigger, now. :)
Sierra Nevada Mountains Painted by Albert Bierstadt about a hundred years before we visited. The trees are bigger, now. :)

Pristine Paradise

Rugged peaks in the distance cradled perpetual snow patches between the treeless, rock covered slopes.

At lower levels, tall pines, and grey granite conglomerations of boulders surrounded the meadow of tough green grass where we camped.

A gushing creek spread out into a placid pond in front of the meadow. The creek pond was the apparent playground of wild trout that jumped with a joy that inspires a fisherman's dreams.

After the trailer was set and the canvas extensions pitched, my dad was off to catch the joyful trout. I was focused on the ground squirrels.

Apparently we had arrived on just the right early spring day. The babies were experiencing their first outing from the underground tunnels.

We had seen the appealing whistling rodents on other summer trips to this place, but we were earlier this year. This was a first outing for the babies which were less than half the size of of the adults we were used to seeing. They popped in and out of the burrow with eye-blinking speed.

I was determined to have one of my own.

The Net Strategy

I convinced Dad to loan me his fishing net, and stationed myself near the dugout burrow where we had seen the babies. Lying on my stomach I waited patiently and saw the little critters pop their noses up and down. I needed to be more still, more patient, and more in the right place to make sure the net would come down to trap a baby.

Waiting.... waiting.. waiting... YES! Wham! I missed. They are very fast.

I adjusted my position so I would come closer next time. If.... they would come out again.

In three more hours, I missed twice. Learning from each mistake, I had scooted closer, adjusted my net trajectory, calculated the angle, adjusted the most effective use of timing and patience vs. reaction.

Finally, after a very long interval, a curious, just-too-cute pup popped up. In quick cautious jolts he ventured forward away from the burrow. I waited for him to venture into the range of my fishnet trap. WHAM! Yes! He was under the net! . At least for half a second he was. The mesh was too large and he quickly escaped through a hole, and disappeared back down the home burrow.

Joe and the Sissy Houscat

Source

Uncharateristic Patience

Three hours wasted. My muscles were cramped and sore. But it was still an hour to lunchtime.

The net wasn't going to work. I needed a new strategy.

Inching closer to the burrow, I positioned myself so my hand was next to the hole, thumb on the lower side and fingers curling around the right perimeter. There was no hope in anything less than the direct approach.

I waited. My arms ached, my legs cramped, my back hurt, there was a rock poking into my ribs. I needed to go potty.

I tried not to move, barely breathed, kept my eyes focused on the hole for an interminably long time. I knew I had set the world record for not moving -- for a ten-year old. Finally Joe popped up to take a look.

I grabbed.

GOT HIM ! !

I stood up, trying not to grasp him too firmly. I'm not sure which of us was more surprised. He didn't seem to struggle much, but looked at me with glistening brown eyes and a little smile--or so I thought.

Thinking back on it, I'm surprised he didn't bite me. Apparently, neither of us thought about that possibility.

The Reward

I jumped up, cupping him in my two hands and ran back to the trailer, yelling, "I got one! I got one! " I think my mom was as surprised as the squirrel.

Joe was a pet for several years. Being innocent and having not learned the ways of the wild (the forest equivalent of 'street smarts') he was very tame and docile. We fed him milk or water from a doll's baby bottle, and provided him with hamster feed. The newspaper people came out to take pictures of him drinking from the bottle with our cat looking on. When he got a bit bigger he especially liked grapes which he would hold in his forepaws and eat like a big juicy melon. Also he could stuff a grape into each cheek pouch and make us laugh by looking silly.

He would sit on my desk munching sunflower seeds or grooming his tiny feet and fuzzy belly, while I did my homework. He liked being scratched behind the ears, and seemed to enjoy being held by people, petted and scratched.

He and our big sissy house-cat would take turns chasing each other around the house. If the cat got too rough, Joe would bite his paw and the cat would run, chased by the rodent.

He liked to sleep curled up in my shirt pocket-- though we did make him a comfortable outside cage where he made his bed in a suspended wool sock. He drank from a hamster water bottle. Every morning Joe would make his bed by pulling out the shreds of yarn and cloth we had given him for comfort, roll it into a neat ball holding it in his mouth, then climb up to the hanging sock and and stuff the bedding neatly into his ersatz burrow.

Like most stories of well -loved pets-- this one eventually came to a tragic end. I think we had him for almost four years , and one might say it was perhaps longer than he might have survived in the wild. He was very happy, fat and healthy, not battle-scarred and skinny like some of the wild ones we had seen.

His short tan fur was smooth and shiny, his eyes dark and sparkling. His cheerful little chirps and fearless acceptance of his surroundings seemed to say he was perfectly happy. But we probably contributed to his demise as well. He was not lean, mean and wary like the wild ground squirrels.

Joe got out of his cage somehow and disappeared one day. Mom said he probably wanted his freedom, or perhaps he got lost. I was hopeful that he would return, but a few days later Mom knew he wouldn't. She didn't tell me for years-- and it was better that she didn't-- but Joe and probably encountered a neighborhood cat who was NOT our friendly sissy-cat. He had not learned the healthy fear that his kind would have taught him in the wild.

This is only one of the reasons that wild animals should not be pets. My next hub will tell about why wild animals should remain wild.

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Comments 29 comments

NYLady profile image

NYLady 8 years ago from White Plains, NY

Yes, I guess you're right about domesticating wild animals. But what a great story! Your pal for four years. Nice hub.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

He was a sweet little thing. 

Two years later we caught two more because my mom thought he should have 'friends'. They were adults and never became tame, and refused handling. One bit my mom rather severely. The only time I head an explitive from her. She said "Hell's Bells!!"

Joe shunned them and they didn't get along with him-- they went back to the wild the following year.

Thanks for the read and comment.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

What a great story. And you've got some beautifuly descriptive passages that really make this come to life.

"When he got a bit bigger he especially liked grapes which he would hold in his forepaws and eat like a big juicy melon. Also he could stuff a grape into each cheek pouch and make us laugh by looking silly."

Doesn't get much more vivid than that.

I have to say, I can remember spending some long hours trying to catch stuff too. You talking about getting all cramped and wasting three hours reminded me of my genius idea that I could "shoot me one of them thar big dragon flies with my homemade bow and arrow" one summer day. LOL. God, talk about cramping up from squatting in the reeds waiting for one to land. Finally started shooting at them in the air. You probably think that was mean, but I assure you 1) they were perfectly safe, and 2) I was 10, that sort of thing can't be helped at that age.

Anyway, another great read. I love your style.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I always appreciate your comments.

Yes i think Your dragonflies were safe. I have watched them-- and I'm sure they have bee eyes that can see in all directions.

Your comment about my "style": I appreciate it, but I'm not sure I have a style...


Em Writes profile image

Em Writes 8 years ago from Upstate NY

Great hub, Rochelle! I can almost picture a chubby squirrel chasing a cat through the house... :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America

I enjoyed this Hub very much and feel you fortunate for your years with Joe. Friends have a few pet squirrels, but they live outside in the oak tree. While friendly and playful with the humans they know, the squirrels still have the healthy fear you speak of in your writing. I can just see Joe in his sock, though, and it is a great image.

Patty


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America

This was so good,I had to read it again! I love that ground squirrel.

Cheers! :)


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

Wonderful story. I agree, wild animals should not be pets.

Well done :)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you and thank you again Patty Inglish, MS

 And I also appreciate your comment, Uninvited Writer. I did a follow-up hub to this giving more reasons for keeping wild animals wild.

http://hubpages.com/animals/Why-You-Dont-Want-a-Wi...


RGraf profile image

RGraf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

As children we seem to always want one. Doesn't mean our parents agree!!!

Another great article.


lorlie6 profile image

lorlie6 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

Rochelle, I felt that ten year old girl's determination as I read your tale...Loved this!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

It did take some patience, but I knew I 'needed' to capture this cute little critter. Ultimately it was to his-- or maybe her-- detriment, but I did learn a lot of lessons from it.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I finally found the newspaper clipping that shows Joe and the Sissy Housecat.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America

The picture you placed in this Hub of Joe and Duffy adds another dimension to the story. I agree about wild animals not beng right as pets and that we need to protect pets and encourage nature to protect itself when we cannot. I've bookmarked this one.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, Patty. I know you asked if I had a photo-- and I happened to find that newspaper clipping when I was going through some old saved stuff.


Arlecchino profile image

Arlecchino 6 years ago from Top of the Cloud

Great story! It's true that wild animals should be free. Enjoyed reading.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks, Arlecchino. Yes, made to be wild and free.


Becky 5 years ago

We used to camp down on the Colorado River just outside Parker, AZ. There were hundreds of these. My husband would sit outside eating chips and salsa and sharing with them. Some of them got so friendly that they would climb onto his hand to take the chip. He always wished we could get them to live in our back yard.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I understand. They are so appealing and 'cute', but they really need to be in the wild. Thanks for reading.


funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

Wow. So cute!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks-- he was irresistably cute-- and I had to have one.


princesswithapen profile image

princesswithapen 5 years ago

Rochelle

Reading about your attempts at catching Joe was hilarious. Surely all the efforts and patience would have seemed worthwhile after that cute little thing rested in your palm!

Cute story with a not-so-cute ending, however mother nature has its own quirky ways to remind us who's the boss around here. Great hub, makes for a good read.

Princesswithapen


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks for your comments, princesswithapen. Yes, it was a fun experience-- but not usually the best for the critter. One might argue that he would have had a briefer life in the wild, but I did write a follow-up hub about why wild animals should be left in the wild.


natures47friend profile image

natures47friend 5 years ago from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand.

Wow...what a great writer you are...and sssso cute - the cat and the squirrel!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks for commenting, natures47friend. It was great entertainment.


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

I so enjoyed your childhood story and the newspaper photo of Joe and your sissy-cat. My great grandparents lived in Golden, Colorado for many years and we made a yearly pilgrimage there during most of my childhood. Before the age of 12 I, too, often hunted ground squirrels (I called them chipmunks). Although I never caught one, I enjoyed feeding them sunflower seeds and some of them that were accustomed to human contact would even accept the seeds from my fingertips. I would have gone to 7th heaven if I'd had one as a pet! I did have one wild animal, a pheasant, as a pet. But that's another story...


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

They are very appealing-- I guess I got lucky. I had a pheasant once, too, but we lived in a suburban neighborhood and those birds are noisy. I could be at the store a couple of blocks away and hear its distinctive scream. Didn't keep it long. Didn't want the neighbors to complain.

I appreciate your comments. It's nice to relive some of those memories.

Please write your pheasant story when you get a chance.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York

I identified with your story, especially the part about the tense anticipation when hoping to catch an animal. I don't thin you contributed to his demise at all (unless someone was negligent with keeping him confined in his cage. These things happen with dogs and cats as well. Sounds like it was a tragic accident. Could have happened to any non-wild animal.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, Melissa. Yes, I think he had a pretty good life, and we did enjoy his company.

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    Rochelle Frank profile image

    Rochelle Frank1,657 Followers
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    Living the simple life in a rural area for the past 20 years, Rochelle has experienced, wild critters, power outages and some life lessons.



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