THIS IS PART THREE
Read Part One: “Spirit Squirrel™ is Back”
Read Part Two: “More Adventures of Spirit Squirrel™”
“Hello, there’s a sick squirrel slowly walking around my yard. His tail is dragging. He doesn’t look right. He’s all squinty. He’s not bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Now he’s reclining under a rose bush. Can you please come and rescue him? “
Sitting on a comfy boat cushion with a garden spade in my hand, I was in a state of Zen transplanting clary sage seedlings in the rear part of our yard. A lovely day; quiet except for the crows, I see out of the corner of my eye — less than a foot away from my hand — something that doesn’t look like a plant, but it’s not moving. At the exact moment my brain registers that it’s a squirrel, I can tell there’s something really, really wrong with it. Here in SoCal, we’re used to ground squirrels digging holes in our yard, eating bird seed, and being annoying. They always run away when a human’s around. But not this poor little guy.
What are you supposed to do when you find a sick adult squirrel?
Now we’ll proceed to commence the frustrating and annoying round of telephone calls to useless govenrmental agencies who pass you on and on like a game of “Hot Potato”.
“No” says the City of Carlsbad Environmental Services,
“We don’t do that”. “You should call Animal Control.”
Nope, San Diego County Animal Control can’t do anything either, but they say that because it could possibly have or carry the bubonic plague, I should call the County of San Diego Vector Control. Vector Control specialist Chris informs me with a chuckle that only the squirrels on Palomar Mountain test posiitve for the plague and it’s impossible this one has the plague, maybe he “ate some bad food” but they won’t help this little critter.
“Let Mother Nature take its course”, he says.
When I tell him that, as a compassionate animal advocate, I’m having a hard time grasping that concept, and while I’m at it, I’m wondering what exactly it is that Vector Control does,…he suggests I try to call Project Wildlife — but, he cautions, I shouldn’t get my hopes up because squirrels don’t rate very highly on their list of animals they like to rescue. However, if I could trap it in a box and bring it to them, they would have to accept it.
If you can’t picture me somehow trapping a potentially extremely sick animal and putting it in my car and driving it to Project Wildlife, that’s because it would never happen in a zillion years. A bird, yes; a dog, cat, coyote, bobcat even, but not a squirrel or a rat or a racoon that’s listlessly walking around in circles with squinty eyes.
Isn’t that what these city/county agencies are for? Isn’t that why we pay taxes?
I called Chris back, unwilling to believe that he can’t see the potential public harm from a squirrel that is obviously not acting like a normal squirrel, and he suggests that I “get a family member or a neighbor to put it out of its misery or just wait until it dies and put it in the trash.”
I hung up before I said anything that could be classified as a threat…..
I ran inside and locked the door and emailed my tugboat man. If ever there was a time when I hated him for being away, this was it. If he had a normal job, he could have left work, driven home, and helped me out. But no….he’s a zillion miles away. Here’s the email:
Amazingly, he called while I was keeping an eye on the sicky squirrel with a pair of binoculars. He suggested that I get the hose out and gently sprinkle it in the general direction of the squirrel to guide it away. While I was on the cell with him, I turned on the water, and with hubs encouragement, sprayed near the squirrel. Oh NO, that was the wrong thing to do!
THAT MOTHERF***ER CAME AFTER ME!
Instead of running up the hill and hopefully back to his den, he began to walk straight AT ME. I’m screaming in hubs ear and running around in circles and swearing at him and telling him to get on the first goddamn flight to do his job as a husband and protect me from being attacked by a wild animal — and he says,
“No, I cannot do that, Rosebud. I cannot tell the company that my wife is being traumatized by a ground squirrel and I need to have the United States Coast Guard fly me home.” “Good luck with that, ‘cos that’s not gonna happen. That’s not what we consider an emergency.”
NOTE: He really said CANNOT and not the informal can’t.
Well, thanks a whole lot, Master Captain Butthead. I won’t forget how you abandoned me in my time of need.
If you want to know what it’s like to be the wife of a tugboat captain, this is a fairly accurate scenario.
After we hung up, I called a few exterminators and no one seemed interested in humanely trapping the little guy.
Finally, I went next door and told my neighbor about this situation because they always have grandkids around and asked him if he wanted to come over and take a look at it.
He came over and kind of shooed it with a broom under the fence into his yard and went back home.
A few minutes later he returned and said it was gone — as in GONE — as in GONE FOREVER and I owed him a pan of brownies or chocolate chip cookies or something…
I didn’t want details; I’m just glad the little guy isn’t suffering anymore.
And that’s the end of Spirit Squirrel™…. RIP little buddy.
UPDATE: On the news this morning…a segment about squirrels and the plague, referring everyone to the San Diego County Department of Health’s News Release.
SQUIRREL ON PALOMAR MOUNTAIN TESTS POSITIVE FOR PLAGUE
Campers and Hikers Warned to Take Precautions
P.S. Getting started on those brownies now.
One day when DIL was here, we came home from our mani/pedi and she went upstairs to her room and I turned on the electric kettle for a cup of Dong Suh brown rice green tea the captain brought back from Korea. DIL chose Yogi ginger. I brought her tea upstairs and as I walked past the other bedroom we’ve turned into our office and crafts center, I looked down, and there on the carpet, were what appeared to be several animal prints.
The carpet had been freshly vacuumed and I had not been in that room all day. They really, really looked like an animal had been in there. “S, come here, no, not there, watch where you walk, OMG, I think there is an animal in the house, look down, what does that look like to you?”
She totally thought it looked like an animal print and we followed what we thought were more tracks embedded in the carpet downstairs.
At this point, we were getting freaked out. Being a bit braver than I am, she looked in the laundry room, the closets, and under all the beds. Nothing. Together, we went to the living room to search the fireplace area. Nothing. Checked the entrance to the attic. Nothing.
I called the captain, not thinking or caring that he might be sleeping or working. “THERE’S AN ANIMAL IN THE HOUSE, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO, WE’RE SCARED!”
He is normally a calm person, an important trait in a captain of a vessel, and he tried to logically and patiently figure out what was going on.
“Was the alarm on when you came home”
“That would mean that the motion sensors would have reacted if something was walking around, right?”
“Well, yeah, but what if it didn’t weigh enough to trigger the sensors?”
“Do you see any kind of mess; trash overturned, furniture ripped up, or sounds of any kind?”
“No…but maybe they are tidy squirrels, raccoons, possums, whatever they are”
“OK, do this. Take some talcum powder and sprinkle it over the tile floors, creating a path all the way to the door. You and S go out for a while and when you come back, if there was an animal in the house, the powder should retain the tracks, kind of the same way the CSI does fingerprints.”
“And then call me back, ‘cos I’m really busy right now”
“OK, but can you come home? Hello? Hello?”
“And what do you mean IF there was an animal, don’t you believe me?”
Of course, he had already hung up and never heard that. I sprinkled the powder. When we came back, there was nothing. Not one single thing. Nothing except a gigantic mess that I had to clean up. I vacuumed and then mopped the floor. The powder had migrated and sifted a bit under the sofa and chairs, so I was a busy bee for quite a while, on top of being exhausted from my full-time job as mom shuttle.
S came to the conclusion that if what we saw was not a living creature, it must be a ghost, perhaps even the ghost of Spirit Squirrel. I’m not sure I’m a believer, but I was too tired and stressed out to think of any rational explanations, so that’s it, the ghost of Spirit Squirrel it was.
Spirit Squirrel™ is my name for the squirrel I first saw at dawn the morning after our beloved Victor passed away at the emergency animal hospital.
(First of all, I’ve lived in SoCal since 1969. I don’t recall it has ever been this hot. We live about three miles from the beach and a quarter mile from a lagoon and it has got to be at least 110 degrees in the sun. And so dry, such a dry heat, and all morning I’ve heard sirens, which is never a good thing when it’s this hot and dry.)
It was on a day like this that our beloved Border Collie died.
My son was ten-years-old when we got this little black and white fluffy fur ball. He chose the name, having recently read “to the victor belong the spoils” and thought that would be a good name for his new puppy.
In 2006, Victor was sixteen-years-old and had been in failing health for about two or three years. Every time he had a setback, we tried to prepare ourselves for the end–I’d call my son wherever he was in the world and give him an update and the opportunity to say goodbye, if only by telephone, because Victor was his dog, his buddy, and even hearing my son’s voice would elicit a wag, a thump of his beautiful feathery tail. (another reason amongst fourteen billion why it is such an act of animal cruelty to butcher (bob) tails or clip (butcher) ears.)
This time I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a repetitive knocking sound near the back door. That’s where old Vic slept, just inside the patio doors on a dog bed that was soft and supportive enough to cushion his old arthritic joints. The poor dear was almost deaf and had growing cataracts but he still loved to play soccer and throw his bucket around. He was eating and eliminating OK, but every extra day with him was cherished. I was afraid to go out in the family room, afraid of what I might see; I had a kind of premonition. I didn’t want to rouse my husband just in case I was wrong. I will never forget what I found. Poor, poor Vic was fully involved in a Gran Mal epileptic seizure. The knocking was his back legs hitting the glass door as he was seizing. I rushed to him, pulling his bed away from the door so he couldn’t injure himself and gently moved his tongue so he wouldn’t choke. I ran into the bedroom and touched my husband’s back. I tried to be calm but my heart was breaking. “Something happened to Victor. You need to get up. We have to take him to the hospital. It’s bad. It’s real bad.” I called the 24 hour hospital to let them know we were on our way. We took turns staying by his side while we got ready. By the time we got dressed, the seizing had ended, but he was unresponsive and probably comatose; barely breathing, his chest rose and fell, not agitated and not in any apparent pain. He weighed sixty-five pounds, kind of big for a BC even though he had a pedigree. My husband decided the best way to carry him was on his bed, so he got a big sheet of plywood from the garage and we placed him on that to transport him to his Blazer. I sat with him in the back all the way to the hospital. He looked just like he was peacefully asleep.
Apparently, his organs were shutting down; the vet said it could have been triggered by the heat or cancer or old age, but we all agreed that it would be cruel to subject him to any diagnostic or invasive procedures. For whatever reason, it was his time to go and our job to make it as pain-free as possible.
We covered him with kisses and tears as the vet performed euthanasia, and we were there for his final inhale and his final exhale. The compassionate vet left us alone as we sobbed and stroked him. I think he might have teared up a bit as he watched us say goodbye. Although we knew this day would come, we were not prepared for the depth of our despair.
Victor would never again wake up. We were never again to be greeted by his jumping on the bed, his cold nose prodding us awake. We were never again going to watch him get chased around the house by our cat, Bandit, in one of their games that he always lovingly let her win. Never again was I going to have to spell the word”walk” so he wouldn’t know we were going to go out without him. I would never again gaze into his massive brown eyes and feel so much love. There will be other dogs in our life, but there will never be another Victor. We still love you, buddy.
I have had other dogs and loved every one of them but Victor and I had a special bond, maybe because when my son left for college and I was an empty nester and newly alone, Victor became that child who would never leave.
Which brings me to Spirit Squirrel. By the time we got home, it was almost dawn and neither of us could get back to sleep. There was such an emptiness in the house- it was palpable. We were truly bereft as we looked around the house that his absence seemed to fill as much as his presence had; his food and water bowls, his toys, his leash. We had made sure that our cat, Bandit, had said her goodbyes but now she was looking all over the house for her friend, and we tried to explain that Vic wasn’t coming back, but she just ran under the bed for the rest of the day. I honestly think she never recovered from that loss.
I thought perhaps the best thing to do would be to remove all of Vic’s belongings; and I pinky swear this happened: I was standing at the back door and saw a ground squirrel climb up over the side of the deck and take Victor’s rawhide chew bone and run off with it. Right before my eyes! I had never seen a squirrel before so near the house–I knew we had them around but never so bold. One of the perks of a dog is their skill as a deterrent. I named him Spirit Squirrel™ and fantasized that he was really Victor’s spirit brother whose job was to transport the bone to Victor in dog heaven. Since then, and since so far we haven’t brought home another dogchild, other squirrels have taken up residence in our yard, and I know they are unwanted vermin, yet I can’t for the life of me find a good, rational, scientific explanation for the whys and hows of that event on that particular day at that particular time. I’m writing a children’s book about my son and Victor and will include a story about Spirit Squirrel™.
This morning I saw a squirrel run across the deck, I think to eat the almonds I leave out for the scrub jays. Unfortunately, they are becoming a growing problem, and something the captain is going to have to deal with when he comes home.