24 June 2009

When fear spreads, like a pox

Red squirrels in Scotland are dying.

So says this report in the Scotsman which rightfully points a finger at the eastern grey squirrels - members of the non-native species who never asked for transport across the Atlantic but, nonetheless, are there. And with them is a lethal form of pox that, once it seizes its victim, kills over a period of weeks.

The greys are considered carriers - not victims themselves - because they appear to have some measure of immunity.

It is particularly tragic to see this small red squirrel, much loved in its native United Kingdom, immortalized by Beatrix Potter, destroyed by this highly virulent strain. It is sadder still that a distant cousin is responsible (even inadvertently) for the annihilation.

Britain's response to these awful deaths is not a much better antidote - it amounts to a different kind of pox. One called fear.

Officials have been calling for some time for the trapping, killing and otherwise wiping-out of the grey population.

There have been epidemics of human diseases in the past, ones that will go unnamed here, but these diseases too have been tied to certain populations of people, with hatred, fear, violence and other means also considered as antidotes, or measures of prevention.

Whether the violence suggested is directed at a human or an animal target it is still, unquestionably, genocide.

Can't science find a better way?

21 June 2009

The nuisance factor

Much is made, in newspaper articles and even in general discussion, about squirrels' ability to be exactly where they aren't wanted. In attics. Raiding bird-feeders. In the middle of a busy street. At the back door, begging.

It is socially acceptable, sanctioned and at times even encouraged to make them targets of our hostility or - worse. We can only feel sorry for the person who has never felt the rush of having been acknowledged, or even recognized as a sucker, by a squirrel accustomed to seeing them with a few tasty handouts in the garden or the park. These are the same people who have likely elevated Road Rage to one of the major martial arts.

Imagine for a moment, though, if we were to harness this nuisance-avoidance trait that is so uniquely human, and use it for more practical purposes: Consider, if you will, the workplace nuisance: There is the oversolicitous or overbearing boss, the unendingly chatty or curious colleague, even the phone, possessed by a perpetual motion ringtone that will not stop ringing? Imagine the consumer market, then, for some of these must-have products: A boss-sized Hav-a-Hart "humane" trap (or leg-hold trap for the seriously obnoxious). How about predator-proof work stations that throw the interloper off balance by being counterweighted (like some so-called squirrel-proof bird feeders). Imagine seeing your supervisor one moment coming over to badger you, and in an instant, seeing him or her flung across the room, airborne, and not sure why.

Let's not forget the curious colleague who has come to peck at your luncheon sandwich or salad. That's nothing a little hot pepper won't cure. (This well-touted garden remedy is presumably the last resort before folks resort to fox urine, but this alternate method doesn't lend itself readily to inclusion in a bag lunch.)

There is a world of potential in this new market. While some choose to make their money repelling squirrels, and encouraging others to do so (by purchasing their products, of course), I say: Let's go after the real nuisance culprits. They walk on two legs, and they are around us - everywhere.

11 June 2009

Back to reality

The work week resumed this morning with about 10 to 15 squirrels at the back door, waiting to devour handout pecans and all of my attention. There were also the pre-release squirrels out back in the outdoor pen to be tended to, and the few remaining ready-to-go young adults in their cages indoors.

And about 70 miles east of here, in a small veterinary hospital on Long Island's East End, a small hit-by-car squirrel succumbed overnight to his injuries. We'd called him Shelter Island Shelly when we found him yesterday during a bicycling trip on beautiful Shelter Island, a place of peace, redolent with blooming primrose.

But I will not be returning, as planned, to pick him up later this week to care for him until his release back into the wild. His journey is over.

We surely tried. There were four of us yesterday who came upon him lying on the pavement, and each one did our part. And even as we held his body in our arms, we also cradled his fragile existence. If intention alone were all that was necessary in this world to save any life, the odds were unquestionably in his favor.

In the end, there were forces greater and more powerful than our own that held his life too.

Meanwhile, there are still squirrels at the back door awaiting - no, demanding- the next round of handouts. And there are pre-release squirrels still in my care waiting to get on with their lives in the next few weeks.

And they will. We do what we can, but we can only do that - nothing more.

10 June 2009

Shelter Island Shelly

This is not a blog post so much as it is a prayer. It is being written for a small squirrel found lying in the road bed on an otherwise peaceful, quiet street on a place called Shelter Island, a countrified refuge that fits neatly between the North and South Forks of Long Island.

There were four of us today, on a visit together to Shelter Island, who found this squirrel. It was during a midweek break that was a gift for ourselves, a day of cycling and sight-seeing, an oasis of time we had carved out from our various trying work schedules.

We saw birds, we saw houses, we saw shrubs, flowers and even cacti. It wasn't even clear to me that there would even be squirrels to see at all on Shelter Island. It is, after all, an island. And squirrels can only swim so far from the suburban mainland.

But as we rode, each hopping, scampering, climbing squirrel in sequence caught our eye. We even remarked on the blessed absence of roadkill. And then we saw the small body lying still in the road. But no, not completely still. The squirrel was breathing. And there was a little blood around the nose, which suggested a fall or recent impact of some kind with a passing vehicle.

From that point forward there was no debate among ourselves: We wrapped the squirrel in one of the pullovers we had been carrying on this chilly day, and using cell-phones and GPS (thank you, Age of the Internet), rode off with the little patient as passenger in a basket of one of the two rented bicycles. When we lost our way - racing against the clock now, and against a roadmap we didn't really know - a kind man driving a pickup truck from a local masonry company responded to our distress when we flagged him down: He drove the four of us, our bicycles, and the wounded squirrel back to the right side of down, delivering us right to the door of the bike shop, and then we caught the ferry just in time to bring the squirrel to the one area vet that was still open.

We decided on the name Shelter Island Shelly. That is probably the only say we may have in his fate, however. The vet is holding him overnight on the mainland, after confirming there might be neurologic damage. I am to check with her tomorrow.

There is something about being in the right place at the right time. We were originally planning to make this trip on another day. On our way back, we were thinking of turning left, and back tracking along a familiar return route to town, rather than opting for the road that led us to the squirrel. And then the sympathetic soul in the truck came along. And the animal hospital didn't close until 6:30 - we arrived about 10 minutes before closing time.

I don't know if Shelter Island Shelly will recover but at least for tonight, I know this small animal won't be left for dead on a beautiful country road as the night turns cold.