Wildlife rehabilitators often wonder about the impact their efforts make. In a world full of so-called "anonymous" wildlife, one squirrel is the same as the next to the uninitiated. You lose one, you save one, and the cycle goes forward, season after season.
Unless you are a part of it and hold these squirming little lives in your hands, you may not think anyone stops to grieve when one doesn't make it. But there are plenty of us who do.
And we struggle with them all. I have so far gotten 8 youngsters into care since the start of "fall baby season." In a litter of three who were nearly 5 weeks old, there was one little fellow, the victim of some kind of head trauma and only able to breathe with difficulty. He succumbed after only a few days. His eyes had just opened a day or so earlier. I am glad he got to see the world first before he left it, but I wish I had been able to do more to keep him in this world. I felt that, despite my efforts, I had not made a difference.
And then a friend in Pennsylvania wrote about a baby chipmunk he had just come across, quite by accident. The little one had no use of its back legs. He knew it was important to rescue the baby safely and get it into the care of a rehabilitator he knew.
I will never meet this chipmunk. But of course this little soul is now on my mind as if I had held him with my own hands - like that baby squirrel. As my friend wrote in his e-mail to me today, if it had not been for all those sagas, the happy and sad ones, that I shared with him, he might never have even noticed the little baby, or even made the effort to save him.
I hope he does not mind my borrowing from his e-mail, but here is what he wrote:
The next time you're weighing the amount of good that you're doing please consider your inspirational effect on other people. It was as if I had you looking over my shoulder and telling me what should be done, and I mean that in the best possible sense.
These words bring sustenance. I have to believe that the little boy squirrel, whose life passed too soon just a few days ago, has been part of that inspirational force. He - and all the others - the saved squirrels and the ones who could not be helped - are now part of paying it forward for all the little lives ahead.
And yes, there will be more. Many more.