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A Squirrel Named Rocky
A Squirrel Named Rocky - A True Story
This is the true account of a little gray squirrel that my daughter found in our back yard about 19 years ago.
One fall afternoon I was in the backyard with my 7 year old daughter and my 3 ½ year old son. The day was cool and the yard was thick with oak leaves. My daughter saw something and called out, “Mom, come look!” I went over to look and she pointed at what looked like a tiny pink mouse. We carefully picked up the little pink creature. Not knowing what it was or what we should do we asked our neighbor if he knew what it was. He said that it was a baby squirrel and that it had either fallen out of the nest or the mama squirrel had kicked it out for some reason. Of course we couldn’t leave the poor, helpless, totally bald squirrel out in the cold to die, so we took him into the house.
My daughter held him and I found a box. I got the heating pad and some old t-shirts. I figured that he needed warmth so I turned the heating pad on low, put a layer of cloth over it, put the squirrel on that and covered him up with another cloth, leaving his nose out for air of course. Next we had to figure out what to feed him. Fortunately my boyfriend arrived home soon after we found the squirrel and he suggested calling on a friend who worked for a vet for advice. Well she knew of someone who knew about squirrels. We were able to get the ingredients for a formula to feed the baby squirrel in this way. I don’t remember amounts but I do remember it contained baby rice cereal, milk, and a very small amount of corn syrup. There may have been one other ingredient but I am not sure. (I have come to learn recently that a puppy replacement formula is now recommended for feeding orphan squirrels). So we got the ingredients and made up some formula. Our friend brought over some syringes, she said that would probably work best, and we became surrogate parents to an infant gray squirrel.
We took turns feeding him with the warm milk mix, every few hours. We changed his bedding and rubbed him gently, hopefully in a similar way that his squirrel mother would have. The kids wanted to name him, so we all tossed around different names, and one of them came up with Rocky. We all liked Rocky and thought it fit, he wasn’t a flying squirrel, but so what. Rocky became his name, and he grew bigger. and became stronger and started growing some hair. We felt sure he would survive. As he grew we did notice, however; some unusual qualities about our little squirrel.
We had to wash him in warm water often, and we realized after a while that his back legs were crippled up. His mother did throw him out of the nest! Rocky couldn’t use his back legs, they were twisted. He could never be released into the wild. Ever. He would need to stay with us for his whole life. I was good with that and so was everyone else, because by then we were all besotted with this little gray squirrel, head over heels in love with him. His back legs were useless. The rest of him was amazing.
While Rocky was very small and living only on his formula he stayed in his bed in my room. He slept most of the time like babies do, when they are not eating or doing their other business. As he grew older he was awake and active for longer periods of time, we spent that time with him. Sometimes he hung out on an old towel on our bed and sometimes one of us would put him in our shirt pocket for a few hours. He liked this, he would poke his head out and look around and then curl back up and hide. I even took him to work with me one day (I worked at a plant nursery at the time and was in the greenhouse), I had a little box and his food with me also, but he stayed in my pocket most of the day, peeking out, everyone liked him, no one had ever been around a baby squirrel before.
We watched how he was moving too, and while his back legs didn’t work, his front legs and upper body worked just fine. He used his front legs and by the time he was full grown could move around very fast. He could climb curtains (and your leg!), he leaped as well as any squirrel raised in the wild and his front leg muscles became very large. While on the floor or furniture Rocky could move fast too, although not as fast as a squirrel with working hind legs. He moved with kind of a hopping motion. Animals, and people too, can sure compensate for a handicap!
When we were all at school and work during the day we kept Rocky in our room with the door closed. He had his bed in there and could get in and out of his box if he wanted. While he was still on the milk formula whoever got home first would feed him. Before too long, however; he needed real food. We got him foods that we had always seen squirrels eat, sunflower seeds, acorns, peanuts, fruit. He really liked melon and grapes. Of course he liked to hide the nuts, he spent a lot of time doing that. We gave him some whole pecans. Those were his favorite, he would hold the nut and twirl it around, smell it, and if you came near or said something to him while he was communing with his pecan he would hold it close to his chest and chatter at you. Then he would take his nut somewhere else and hide it. No one was getting Rocky’s pecans! He also enjoyed sampling other foods we had like cereal and crackers. Once he had some pizza crust! I have learned (and observed) since then that squirrels will eat a wide variety of foods. That is probably why they live very well just about anywhere.
We didn’t always know what to do while taking care of our Rocky, but we must have done well enough because he did thrive. I read what I could find about gray squirrels, there wasn’t much information, so we did the best we could think of. He became such a part of the family. He was very friendly and loved to hang out with all of us, the kids spent a lot of time with him. We all spent a lot of time with him. He was very playful. He liked to hide in the laundry basket and pop out at you, then he would burrow back in the clothes and do it again. We learned to be very careful, no laundry was done without Rocky being accounted for! By the time he was this active, we let him have the run of the house. There was extra cleanup involved, curtain washing and vacuuming were done often! But that was fine with me. The two dogs we had were outside most of the time and the cat was always out so he could have some freedom. We just had to do a little squirrel proofing!
My boyfriend thought he needed a better home than an old cardboard box, so he built Rocky his own A-frame tree house! He built it using small tree trunk legs (so Rocky could climb trees) and put a platform on top. He then built the A-frame house and covered the inside and outside with carpet scraps. I put some little blankets inside for him to nest in at night. Rocky loved his tree house! He climbed up and down the tree trunk legs and hid nuts in his nest. Of course he still liked running around, and sitting on the curtain rods but he really liked his tree house! Gray squirrels get up with the sun and go to bed at sunset. Rocky was this way. I was getting up very early for work and would watch as the sun came through the living room windows, Rocky would come out of his house and stretch and yawn. When he saw me he would come right over and I would give him his breakfast. He made this low humming sound in his throat when he saw one of us and when we were all hanging out. I thought that was the sound he made when he was happy. He always made this sound in the morning.
By now Rocky was about 6 months old and looked to be as big as he was going to get, (He really did have some strong arms on him). He had a routine of sorts. He would get up with the sun, have breakfast and a drink of water, hang out on one of our shoulders for a while, climb a curtain, sit on the curtain rod, hide nuts. He confiscated a potted chrysanthemum I had in one of our big living room windows. I came home from work one afternoon and the plant was shredded on the sill and Rocky was sitting in the pot busily burying acorns. He was so involved he didn’t even notice I was home. I watched him for a while. He stopped at one point and made a squirrel noise, a loud call and I realized the wild squirrels outside were calling. Rocky must have been answering back. I felt kind of sad for him and hoped he wasn’t too lonesome for the other squirrels. He would never be able to be released because of his crippled back legs. He got around great, but the other squirrels would gang up on him, he couldn’t hold his own in the wild. I hoped so much that the life he did have with us was a good squirrel life. We tried to provide him with as much squirrel atmosphere and activities as we could. I do think he was happy, and he did love us, that was obvious.
Rocky was always so happy to see us when we came home. He might leap from the curtain rod and land on us, he usually made a good landing too, on a shoulder, sometimes on your back, or it he was somewhere else in the house he would come running/ hopping, making that low humming sound of happiness. Usually he would hang out with one of the kids or one of us for a while, then go check on his hidden nuts. In the evenings after supper we would usually watch TV for a while. Most nights Rocky would go to bed on his own. Sometimes he would stay up with us on the couch. He would try so hard to stay awake, sitting on one our shoulders or on the back of the couch. He would doze and I would eventually take him to his house and he would go in, arrange his covers, curl his tail around him and go to sleep. For such a little guy he had tons of personality and brought so much joy into our lives. Gray squirrels in the wild can live up to 10 -12 years, but generally the life-span is much shorter, as they are hunted by birds and other critters. We didn’t know how long he might live and didn’t waste time thinking about it. Life was good and full.
We were fortunate to have been able to give Rocky a home and share in this wonderful creatures life, unfortunately he didn’t make it to his first year. There was an accident. The cat snuck in. Rocky put up a good fight but he didn’t make it. Thankfully, it was quick. He died while I was holding him. I blamed myself for being careless, my boyfriend blamed himself for not fixing the door. My young son blamed the cat! We were all devastated and cried for days. We buried him and missed him too much for words. Our friends reminded us that he wouldn’t have had any life at all if my daughter had not found him and we not taken him in and that was true. It was still hard. It had been such an honor and a blessing to have a relationship with this little squirrel. A wild creature.
We have always remembered Rocky, my kids and I reminisce about him. The friends and family who met Rocky always remember him too!! I wish he could have been with us for many, many years but I will always feel very lucky that we got to have him as long as we did.
We actually raised a few other orphan squirrels over the next few years. Two did fine and we released them into the yard. The other two didn’t make it. We stopped caring for abandoned squirrels after that. I loved all the squirrels we had, they have such engaging, playful personalities, but I loved Rocky the best. He was one in a million!