“Smitty, no!” This exclamation can be heard coming out of my mouth quite frequently while walking my 7-year old corgi/collie mix dog. During our walk around our Myers Park neighborhood on a recent Saturday morning, I had seen a tiny unmoving body on the sidewalk. Harsh storms from the previous night had obviously washed the tiny squirrel out of his/her nest from a tree overhead. When I saw my dog licking something, I thought he had found another dead baby… until I heard it squeak.
What do you do if you find an injured wild animal? This was the question that went through my head as I watched my pup gently nudge the tiny baby on the sidewalk with his nose.
Should I walk away? Should I chuck it up to this is nature? I made my decision about what I was going to do. When Smitty lay down on the sidewalk next to the baby I eventually named Nathaniel, I knew he came to the same conclusion I had… we had to help him.
My first step was to call my vet’s office. Most practices only deal with domestic animals and not wild animals, but they are still a great resource. I was given the number for Animal Rehabilitators of the Carolinas (ARC). I called them, but due to the storm, their technicians were swamped assisting other animals.
My next step was to reach out to friends who have rescued squirrels and I was given the number for Monroe Animal Hospital. One of their technicians, Michelle Ray, rescues small wildlife such as squirrels, otters and possums. I reached out to Ray, but she was heading out of town that weekend. Never one to say no to an animal in need, she gave me the contact information for her partner in animal rescues, Emilie Nelson.
Nelson was great on the phone. I found out that she and Ray run NC Wildlife Rehab and are certified independent rehabilitators. She gave me a run down of what a person should do if they find an injured baby animal.
(1) The first step should always be to try to reunite the baby with its mother. For squirrels, Nelson recommended putting the baby in a shallow box or piece of Tupperware and taping it to a tree. Since it was obvious that Nathaniel had been on the sidewalk overnight, his mother wasn’t coming back.
(2) Step two is to keep the baby warm. I surrounded Nathaniel with a Christmas towel (use what you have) in a Priority Mail box. Nelson also suggested putting a heating pad under the box, or putting a water bottle filled with warm water in the box with the baby.
(3) Keep the baby in a quiet and safe area until you can figure out next steps.
Well, my next step was to get baby Nathaniel all the help he needed. Nelson is based in Lincolnton in a log-cabin-esque home and could take him. So I did what any rational person would do: I loaded my tiny squirrel in the Priority Mail box in my car for a road trip. I turned the heat on for his comfort, rolled down the windows for mine, and drove over 30 minutes to Lincolnton.
When I arrived, I carefully handed Nathaniel over to Nelson. She confirmed that his back leg was broken and that he was extremely dehydrated. I watched as she gently took a syringe and injected him with fluids (similar to what is in an IV) and then gave him pain medicine. She carefully placed him in a small container and put his container on top of a heating pad.
While we waited for the fluids to hydrate Nathaniel, she told me it was time to feed the other babies. Out came a box with eight baby possums snuggled together. One by one she plucked them out and via syringe gave them a special formula. She looked at me, handed me one and put me to work. I sat with her and fed three of the babies.
What started out as a routine Saturday morning for me turned out to be one of the best and most unexpected adventures I had been on in a long time. I fed baby possums, met adult possums, woodchucks and squirrels, along with rescued pigs and chickens.
And Nathaniel… he’s doing great! Nelson fashioned him a splint out of a paper clip and he is eating like a champ and gaining weight. Time will tell if his leg heals enough for him to be released back into the wild, but he’s currently staying with Nelson and is in great hands.
If you’d like to donate to NC Wildlife Rehab to help with Nathaniel’s care (and all the other animals), you can do so here.
For additional resources, as well as other area rehab options and what to do and not do in this situation, read more here.
Photos: Erin Maddrey