How To Catch a Rabid Squirrel (and why)
Excerpt from the upcoming The (Almost) Totally Useless How-to Book by Tim Reynolds.
It was a rescue mission unlike any other we’d ever undertaken: to capture an injured beast in need of medical assistance in order to survive when returned to the wilds.
Rescue missions were our specialty, though up to this point in time (circa 1974) they had all been military in nature. This would be our first zoological rescue. It would also be our first live rescue, all previous missions having involved G.I. Joes. Not the 4″-short Joes, but the original , full, 12″ Barbie’s-coming-home-with-me G.I. Joes. The real deal. One of my Joes was evencovert, having been smuggled up from the U.S. of A. before Canada was even involved in the Hasbro-Mattel Conflict.
But, like I said, this was our first zoological rescue and no fourteen- and thirteen-year-old two-kid team were more prepared than Ron and me.
LOCATION: Banbury Community Centre, formerly the clubhouse for the IBM Country Club in the Don Mills/York Mills suburban jungle of Toronto. IBM had built a new course and sold the old one to developers. The old clubhouse had been turned into a community centre, elections had been held, and my father became the founding president, so I was very familiar with the structure and the grounds. This was my stomping ground, my reservation.
We’d ridden our bikes up to the greenbelt area behind the tennis courts that used to be a golf course. Our usual bases of operations were disguised as split-level bungalows four blocks south, as the condor flies. Ron & I had done our traditional summer-day workout on the Tarzan swing over the 12′-wide Wilket Creek and had moved back up to the plateau and the high-intensity obstacle course disguised as a playground. Our primary piece of training equipment was the metal, 8′-tall geodesic climbing dome.
Climbing, hanging and general agility training were par for the course. Later that very summer an unfortunate teeter-totter incident would find Ron nursing his bruised nut-sack with a bag of ice, but on the day of the rescue in question, Captain Ron was in tip-top shape.
We were returning from the refuelling station at the drinking fountain when we spotted him — sciurus carolineses. The wee black beastie was injured and it was plain to see that it wasn’t just a thorn in his paw. It was a broken leg. He couldn’t put any weight on it and it was bent at an odd angle.
Trained first as Wolf Cubs and then as Boy Scouts, we sprang into action. First, we needed to rig a live-trap, cuz even we two neophytes knew that you can’t catch a squirrel with your bare hands, broken leg or not. Also, there’s not much point in mending a fractured limb if you’ve used a strangle-snare trap to catch the specimen.
So Ron maintained steady observation of Gimpy the Squirrel while I went dumpster-diving for a zoological specimen containment container thingy. Five minutes later I had acquired the perfect container for transportation of a live specimen for medical care and attention — a relatively clean cardboard box with flaps which could be jerry-rigged into a secure lid.
Cutting to the chase (literally!), we cornered Gimpy under an elevated maintenance shack, set the box up over one of the few exits from his hidey-hole and then corralled our target specimen (through noise & non-contact stone-throwing) toward the box. To passersby we must have looked like a pair of lunatics instead of the zoological wranglers we fancied ourselves to be.
Gimpy was finally contained (it took the better part of an hour!) he didn’t seem too happy. There was a lot of screeching and scratching and low guttural complaints coming from deep inside the 16x12x8 specimen container.
In retrospect, I believe that the low guttural sounds should have been our first clue that, other than the fractured limb, there was something amiss with Gimpy J. Squirrel — growling is not something usually associated with the scrap-eating, myopic future road affectionately known as the grey squirrel, black variant.
Irregardless of Gimpy’s disposition, the steel-spring rat trap on my bike kept the box in place and the lid down tight for the duration of his transport from the field to medical home base and proper triage and treatment.
You might be asking why we would think that we would have the resources to fix a broken leg on a squirrel. Well, my Mom is a nurse and Dad could fix anything, at least in the eyes of his fourteen-year-old son (until the night he cut through the live wires in the rec room with a circular saw).
Anyway, we figured that if we couldn’t fix it, the Humane Society could. Oh, such innocence.
Long story slightly shorter, we transported our injured zoological specimen back to the Larkfield animal hospital for examination and treatment. The treatment area might have looked like a picnic table on our back patio, but it didn’t take Mom long to diagnose the situation.
“What have you got this time, Timothy? (she’s the only person other than a job interviewer who gets to call me that) It’s making a lot of noise for a tadpole.”
“It’s a squirrel, Mom. We think its leg is broken.”
She lifted one flap of the box lid to peak inside. Then closed it fast and put her hand down on it hard, to hold the lid in place. “Your father will be home soon. We’ll need his help. In the meantime, we need something heavy to hold the lid down. Oh, and don’t let Martini (our little poodle) or your sisters out into the back yard until we’re all done.” Mom was very calm. That, too, should have worried me. I didn’t recognize fear when I saw it. But she was calm so we did what she asked and found a couple heavy pieces of firewood to hold the lid in place.
Dad arrived home in short order, having made the commute from Bay & Bloor back to the burbs in no time at all (which is to say in less than an hour). The usual hellos took place and then Ron headed home, two doors down, for dinner. Mom calmly brought Dad out onto the patio where Gimpy was protesting the dark quarters he was currently confined to. “Your son has brought home a rabid squirrel.”
“No I didn’t. His leg is just broken. We can fix him.”
“Let’s take a look.”
The logs were removed and Dad managed a peak without releasing the wolverine which had replaced Gimpy. “Yup. He’s foaming.” How did you manage to catch him without getting bitten?”
“It took …”
“That doesn’t matter right now, boys, get rid of it.”
“Your Mom’s right. We have to put it down.”
“It’s rabid. It’s the only thing to do.”
Dad didn’t have to think too long on the solution, almost like he’d had to do this before. “Get me the utility knife in my tool box. I’ll go start the car.”
“We’re taking him somewhere?”
“Just do what your father says and get the knife. Ken, do you know what you’re doing?”
So, now that you know how to catch a rabid squirrel (and why) here’s a free lesson on euthanization of a rabid beast (not to be used on any other kind). Being in the city, the gun was out of the question (we had two in the house, but no ammo). Besides, this wasn’t Old Yeller — a wiggly squirrel is a bitch to hit with a hand gun.
This is where I had originally put the details of how we euthanized Gimpy the squirrel, but before this post went public I decided that all I should say is that it was painless, bloodless and relatively quick. There are too many wack-jobs out there on the internet that I don’t want to be the one who tells them how to kill small animals quickly and easily. I don’t want the deaths of puppies, kittens, hamsters or anything else for that matter on my hands.
Now, you the reader may be contemplating calling whatever authorities might handle animal cruelty cases over thirty years old, but just let me say that in that short sleep before he died, Gimpy probably knew the first peace since the deadly disease had taken hold of him. We were in no way trying to be cruel. You can’t heal rabies.
So, that’s what suburban Toronto Boy Scouts do for fun on a summer day. Hey, at least we weren’t shooting gophers for the tails like our counterparts out on the farms were!
That’s it for this week.
Ciao for now,
(Next week: Something more pleasant, I promise)