Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Squirrel Update

I received an email from my friend who works at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in regard to the squirrel I brought in last Friday. It turns out that my completely random guess at his gender was correct. He's a boy. She said that there was an abcess on his back that was drained. The redness I thought I saw on his hands turned out to be nothing. She also said:
I looked in on him and he was lying in his hammock and growled at me. Good sign.
I'm cautiously optimistic that as long as the antibiotics do what they should, this case will have a positive outcome.


The WRC actually had an open house this last Sunday. Anna and I went. Upon arrival Anna got to pick out an "injured" stuffed animal and take it through the various steps an animal would go through when they  are treated.

She picked out a duck. It had a fractured leg and wing. We went to radiology and saw what an x-ray of a fractured leg would look like, had a bandage put on the ducks wing, made a quick visit to parasitology to rid it of fleas and such and finally brought  the duck to the ward to get it all set up in a cage.

I really hate that word. Cage. But that's what they are. And I explained to Anna that the cages are there so that the people at WRC can help the animals heal and eventually be released to their home. I also told her that the animals may not realize that, so they might be scared of the cage and of the people trying to help.

Anna decided to call them kennels instead.

We watched a slide-show about how the place works and it showed the various animals they rehabilitate. Whenever the presenter would say how many animals they take in (for example, something like 2,000 rabbits, if I remember correctly) Anna would say, "Wow, that's a lot!"

I agree with her. That is a lot. They take in thousands of animals every year, rehabilitate those they can and give a painless death to those who don't have a chance of making it. I feel lucky to have this place in my backyard.

Oh, and we didn't get to see any of the animals currently being rehabilitated there, because of an agreement that the WRC has with the DNR. As much as I wanted to see them all, it makes sense. That many people walking around would scare most of them, and it's not really the intent of the WRC to showcase live animals. It makes me respect them even more.

My friend at the WRC said she'll let me know when they release the squirrel, and they'll do it right where I found him. There's no way to know how long the rehabilitation will take, but when he's released I'll post another update, hopefully with photos of the little guy running back home.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Life I Did Save

I saved a squirrel today.

Well, I don't know for sure that I saved him. He may have lived without my help, but it didn't look like things were going that way. And I'm not sure of the gender, but in my head the squirrel is a "him," so that's what I'm going with until I find out differently.

Anna carpools to school with our neighbor. It was their turn to drive, so I watched Anna as she crossed the street, but then I looked down toward my neighbor's house and there they were, Anna's friend and her mom, standing on the street with a cat and a squirrel.

It's important to note that the squirrels in the Twin Cities are not fans of humans. When my wife and I were in San Francisco, at Golden Gate Park, squirrels walked right up to us, stood on their hind legs and basically begged for food. I assume it's like that in some other metropolitan areas as well. But not in the TC. Squirrels cannot run fast enough from humans. If I look in my backyard in the summer, I'll usually see a couple squirrels running around, but when I go out there with the kids, they are nowhere to be seen. So it's a big deal that this squirrel was just walking slowly around two humans on the road.

I walked over there with Anna and checked it out. The cat was just following the squirrel around. Not swatting at him or trying to eat him, as far as I could tell. She was just watching, probably weirded out as we were by the fact that he wasn't running away.

The squirrel seemed to be limping a bit, and after a while we noticed that his hands (or at least one of them) were swollen and red and he had a large lump on his back. Anna and her friend got really close to him and I was worried about rabies, what with our bat experience in the fall. (Holy crap! I forgot to write about our bat experience! I should totally do that.) I suggested they stay a bit further away, but I couldn't blame them for wanting to get close. He was cute and squirrels always run away. Hell, I even wanted to pet the little guy. But instead I ran to my house, got our recycling bin and a piece of an apple. (Do squirrels eat apples? I don't know.)

I was sort of expecting him to run away from me when I approached, but he just sat in the middle of the road and didn't move a muscle. I put the bin on its side on the road and asked him nicely to get in. He didn't. So I moved it right up to him and gave him a gentle pat on the butt with my boot. He crawled in and cowered in the corner. He didn't make an attempt to climb out or anything.

The cat watched all of this from the side of the road.

I brought him into my porch and gave him a little piece of bread, just in case he wanted some carbs. He just huddled in the corner of the bin, scared shitless.

He almost didn't even look like a squirrel to me, he was so still. I went inside and called the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. They said to bring him in, so I did.

On the way there, I kept glancing in the rearview mirror at the recycling bin, scared of two things happening:

1. The squirrel dies en route.
2. The squirrel, refreshed by the heat in the vehicle, jumps out of the recycling bin and starts tearing shit up.

Luckily, neither of these happened. I brought him into the WRC, they said they'd take a look at him. While I was there a woman came in with a box. "Squirrel?" I asked. "Duck," she said. I filled out a form and left.

Here's how I felt: Heroic.

You'll hear vegans say they save lives just by being vegan, but that's not really accurate. We reduce demand, but that doesn't mean there are animals on farms who won't be killed because of someone's vegan choices. Instead, the reduction in demand that vegans create would ideally cause a lessening in demand, thus lessening the amount of animals bought into existence for the sole purpose of being used as a resource. Unfortunately, animal consumption is still on the rise, so the 1% or so of the US population who are vegan don't actually create a net reduction in animals brought into existence for the sole purpose of being used as a resource. It's less of more of the same, instead of less of an equal amount of the same.

I don't feel, on a day to day basis, like I'm saving lives. And I'm not. So bringing this squirrel in has created a much different feeling in me. I'd imagine it's similar to what those involved in open rescues feel when they free animals from farms. "You were going to suffer and die, but because of my actions, you have a much better chance at living a longer life with less suffering."

It's gratifying and alluring. I also feel that it's also sort of ... I don't know. If we're serious about respecting animal interests, then I think the best thing we could do right now is to challenge speciesism on a daily basis with our every-day actions. If we want to built a serious movement, then we need to show that a life without animal exploitation is possible and help people to take the view that animals are moral persons to whom we have obligations, chiefly among them the obligation to not use them as as resources.

This is not to say open rescues and wildlife rehabilitation aren't important. Indeed, to the lives they save, they are the most important thing (since they result in the lessening of suffering and the continuation of life). I guess I'm just trying to say that as long as we live in a society which so routinely devalues non-human animals and treats them as things instead of beings, we probably need to place most of our focus on educating others that, as Joanna Lucas from Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary (an organization that saves lives and educates the public on veganism) has said, "The value of a sentient life is not measured in its utility to others, but in its immense, irreplaceable value to the being whose life it is."

Another angle of thought that this all brings up: I've had a problem in the past with fully supporting wildlife rehabilitation. There's a part of me which thinks that if a wild (or to use a term more accurate: free living) animal is harmed, then that's just part of the life cycle and some predator somewhere will be better off for it. I have felt that by interfering, even to save these animals, we potentially harm ecosystems.

But those thoughts sort of flew out the window when I saw this little squirrel who was obviously injured. I just wanted him to be OK.

I brought this point up to one of the people at the WRC and asked her how she felt about it. She said that there are cases where it's obvious that we shouldn't interfere. She said someone once brought in a mouse that she saved from a hawk who was attacking him/her. But, she said, when a rabbit is hit by a car, or a squirrel is injured by a cat (which may well have been the case with the squirrel I brought in), the injury is due to our interference. By trying to save these animals, we're negating a very small portion of harmful effects our presence has already created.

Because we kill squirrels all the time. About four years ago I ran over one with my car. I can still feel the crunch of his bones. Last year a squirrel died after falling into our chimney. I still remember the smell of death when a nice man came out to remove the carcass (we found out about it because we heard a grinding noise when we turned on our furnace ... and yes, I've since wrapped chicken wire around our chimney). We're responsible for so much unintentional harm to animals. When we have the opportunity to save one of those animals, even when we don't know how they arrived at the injured state they're in, I say go for it. 

I'm even thinking of keeping a box in my car in case I come across any more injured free-living non-human animals. 

And in case you're wondering, I'll post an update on the blog once I find out how the squirrel is doing. I hope to know next week.