Sally Squirrel’s Great Discovery

So, awhile back, my daughter Sarah was at the dentist’s office and while I was waiting with her in the treatment room for her to recover from the anesthesia, I made a new friend. She was quite witty and intelligent, and has had awesome life, so I thought I would turn over my blog to her for this evening so that she can tell her story in her own words. I’m not sure I believe everything she told me, but what the hell, you can decide on your own after you hear her side of things.

My name is Sally. Sally Squirrel. I promised that I would write my story simply and humbly, rather than tooting my own horn. I’m a squirrel and I don’t have lips, so blowing any kind of horn is out of the question. Also, I can’t pat myself on the back because my arms are too short and I can’t reach my back.

The day that changed my life began as they all do. I woke up in a tree. The people who own the tree also had a bird feeder full of delicious seeds. They recently let me know that they had a problem with me eating all the seeds by putting a large collar around the feeder. I was forced to scrounge for other things to eat. Acorns were fine, but got rather boring. Also, I had a dental problem that made eating acorns problematic. I have uneven buckteeth that make me look like a tiny rabbit that grew up near a nuclear waste dump.

You see, we squirrels have twenty teeth.  They’re pretty tough and allow us to break open nuts. They don’t wear down.  That’s my problem. I’m stuck with my buckteeth. I’ve even tried chewing on metal poles to wear them down.  No luck. Making things tougher for me is the fact that I love birdseed. Having these big, ugly choppers means that I have to jam the seeds into the side of my mouth.

Back to the day that changed my life. I was scrounging for breakfast. I saw a group of sparrows dancing around on a windowsill, gorging themselves with birdseed. Sparrows are notorious chickens…well, not real chickens.  More like scaredy cats…well, not real cats, but you get it, right? They definitely don’t like a scuffle. I jumped up on the windowsill and began a delightful feast as the sparrows took off.

As I was stuffing some sunflower seeds into the side of my mouth, I looked into the window and saw something that, at first, terrified me. A man in a white coat was torturing a girl who was in a reclining chair. Oh the humanity! I described the terrible scene to a group of squirrel friends that had just discovered the windowsill buffet for themselves. They all fled in terror. But me, I was transfixed.

It was then that I realized that the girl was smiling. The torturer was chatting with her. I couldn’t believe it! I almost dropped my nuts. Looking around the room, I saw figures of happy teeth dancing with toothbrushes. There were pictures of people smiling, showing off their beautiful teeth. I watched in utter fascination as the man in the white coat skillfully worked on the mouth of the little girl.  In no time at all, they were done. The girl got out of the chair and shook hands with the Mr. White Coat. It suddenly hit me! This must be one of those “dentists” I’d heard about. They fix teeth!  I began tapping on the window. They both turned and saw me, they also saw my teeth. I mean, how could they not? Maybe he could help me, I thought.

I frantically pointed to my choppers and then to the dentist.  I tried to give him my best sad squirrel look. The two humans looked at each other and nodded. The dentist opened the window and pointed to the chair. He explained that he was going to put “squirrel appropriate” crowns on my buckteeth. I was ecstatic! Everything went as planned and well, here I am…able to eat acorns and birdseed and the occasional French fry thrown out by passers-by with nary an issue at all.

If I had wi-fi, I’d leave a great review on Yelp for Mr. Dentist. As it is, I just hang out here on the windowsill offering up my story to all who will listen. It’s a good life. And the birdseed is worth it.

Yeah, okay. The wait might’ve been a little long, certainly long enough for me to distract myself with squirrel stories. And before you ask, no, I did not help myself to the nitrous oxide. My brain just entertains itself, sort of like an unsupervised toddler.  But hey, squirrels ARE cute…so there’s that.

Less Bang for Your Buck

So, growing up I loved fireworks and even as recently as a few years ago I enjoyed the act of going to the fireworks festival in town because it meant a fun, family evening with food, refreshments, moon-bounces, and of course the quintessential 4th of July entertainment of fireworks lighting up the night sky.

Now, however, I sit home with an absolutely terrified and traumatized dog and cat who cower in their respective corners under the bed shaking so hard, you’d think they were in below-freezing temps.  It kind of takes all the fun out of the celebrations. Oh yes, I drug them up with the calming supplements one can find at any pet store and I’ve even tried vet prescribed medication as well, but it seems nothing really cuts through their overwhelming fear.

And that gets me thinking about all of the wild animals snug in their beds, most likely with babies to protect, that must wonder just what the hell is going on during these cacophonous revelries and how it surely must make them feel as though their world and indeed, their very lives, are in danger of being blown out of existence.

Last night they had the fireworks show in my town and the owl that lives in the tree outside my bedroom window was frantic with his “hooting,” and I can only imagine why.  A sound that normally calms me each night and makes me smile into the darkness, instead made me extremely sad as it was obvious a severely distressed call on this particular evening.  Perhaps he was concerned for the lady friend he calls every evening when she did not respond or maybe he was just horribly afraid, like my own little critters cowering under the bed.

Not to be outdone by the professional fireworks in town, my lovely, considerate neighbors set off their own show well into the night so that just as the animals everywhere were able to calm down and relax and perhaps understand that their lives were no longer in danger, the sporadic noise of explosions hit once again, only this time severely close to home, sending them scurrying once again.

I read an article the other day that said people should be respectful and conscientious of their fellow neighbors on the 4th of July weekend as there may be Veterans with PTSD or other issues who could be traumatized by the extraordinarily loud booming of home-grown fireworks.  It’s yet one more thing I had never considered.  However, I can only imagine what it must be like.  And my heart goes out to those Veterans.

While there have indeed been cool advances in pyrotechnics to soften the percussive blow and allow for a quieter fireworks show, it apparently looks like companies in the U.S. aren’t going to be on board for making a meaningful change anytime soon, which is a shame. Nor will these festivals fall to the wayside because they are in fact, fun, family oriented evenings that so many enjoy (with good reason).  But is it really necessary for Joe Blow next door to set up professional grade fireworks in the middle of a suburban street to show that he’s somehow “the man” or has the staying power his wife and/or girlfriend needs?  Sparklers, yes, by all means.  My kids loved them and most kids do. Those cool fiery things that shoot off flaming sparks of varying colors and hiss and twirl, yet stay in one spot…those are downright nifty.  But to set off explosive material that makes the adjacent houses shake and the night sky right above flammable rooftops light up as if you’re at a professional show?  Those we don’t need, thank you very much.

So, to all of my American friends, enjoy your 4th of July. I sincerely hope you have a fun, safe weekend with friends and family.  But can we all just show a little consideration for our neighbors (both 2 legged and 4 legged) amid all the merriment?  It’s really not too much to ask.

 

4th of july

The Squirrel Whisperer

It may be a couple of rungs down from Dr. Doolittle level but over the years my mother has slowly worked her way into the role of Queen of the Squirrels within the local rodent community. I don’t know if this has been an intentional plan of hers that she’s been rolling out over time, but she’s been feeding the squirrels in her backyard for so long now that not only are they not afraid of her, they in fact bask in her aura of generosity.

As soon as she graces them with her presence in the morning by stepping onto the back deck for her morning coffee, her robe draping off her statuesque form like a regal cloak of benevolence, the squirrels scamper about her feet, clutching meekly at the bottom of her dressing gown in a silent plea for the peanuts they know she has in her pockets. And as she seats herself on her queenly throne, the frequent flyers of the group gather to sit at or on her feet.  If she doesn’t see them (because she’s on the phone with me let’s say), they ever so delicately tug at the material to get her attention all the while gazing up at her with loving reverence.

I’m hoping for her sake it’s “gazes of love” and not that crazed look so often seen amongst mutated wildlife in B horror movies:  “feed us now or we’ll surround you and chew your face off!”  It’s so hard to tell with squirrels.

I’ve walked down busy sidewalks in major cities and the squirrels there just barely move out of the way of getting stepped on and that’s normal to see, they’ve grown accustomed to humans and live/react accordingly. But my mother’s squirrels (good grief…now I’m thinking of them as my mother’s squirrels) don’t just politely avoid her as they share the yard or the deck for their morning constitutional…oh no…they seek her out! It’s gotten to the point that she’s given them names! I have to admit though, if I had squirrel worshipers, I’d name them too.

It’s the same routine every day. She wakes up, the squirrels hear her stirring in the house, she comes out with her coffee mug to take in the fresh morning air, and suddenly, they start appearing from hither and yon to sit patiently waiting for her to distribute her stash of peanuts. They each vie for her attention, trying to win her favor and earn a precious, delicious nut.  Should she run out and need a refill, no fear…they simply wait for her to return.

Squirrel 2

This would be “Sweet Pea.”

Now if for some reason, the squirrels don’t see her come out because they’re preoccupied doing their squirrelly things (this is usually in the afternoon, well after their morning meet-up)…all my mother has to do is make a noise I can’t spell but somehow involves clicking her tongue. Oh boy, you’d think she had just rung a dinner bell for all and sundry!

And it’s not just squirrels. Oh please. She’s no amateur, my mother.  She’s a friend and kind-hearted matriarch to all the creatures in her kingdom. Whenever I talk to my mother in the afternoon, she always seems tired. I know why. It’s because she has so many mouths to feed (not to mention my Dad), each demanding their very own breakfast and on some days, lunch. At last count, there were 8 squirrels, 6 blue jays, 4 woodpeckers, and gosh knows how many sparrows all awaiting her appearance in the morning.

Oh, and if you think I just mean they’re waiting for the bird-feeders to be filled, you’re seriously underestimating my mother. How dare you! No…this is the motley assortment of acolytes she hand-feeds peanuts to in the morning. The sparrows are spoiled though. Don’t let them fool you, everyone says so. They need their peanuts crushed. The divas.

The groundhog, well, he’s a loner, so she set him up a stash back behind the shed (she calls it a compost pile, but I know better).

The ironic thing is that this friend of nature is the same woman who used to yell at me as a kid whenever I tried to touch any form of wildlife whatsoever because she was scared to death that I’d get rabies.

Now I know the truth.  It was all just part of a silent campaign on her part to rule them all and keep the crown as Queen all for herself.

Another Rant — or What is a Zoo’s Worth?

For someone who walks around with animal well-being on the brain all day it should come as no surprise that the concept of a zoo stirs up some strong emotions. Most of us have fond memories of going to the zoo on a school trip and seeing some of the most amazing animals the world has to offer. I know that I’ve always loved the zoo. Never did we consider the conditions the animals were being kept in, the possible struggle they feel being kept in a small pen when their DNA is screaming for acres of open land, or the lack of social stimulation they have by restricting their interactions with others of their species.

Through one prism a zoo is just like a prison. The only difference is that the animals didn’t do anything to be there. They’re not convicted felons, arsonists, thieves, and rapists. And yet I feel like they’re treated similarly to an extent. Many zoos around the world are poorly maintained and these innocent animals suffer for it.  A prime example of course is the Copenhagen Zoo. The brilliant officials running that place thought it was best to kill a giraffe simply because they had over-bred/inbred their giraffe family.  The giraffe’s genes were too similar to the other giraffes in the breeding program therefore it wouldn’t be wise to continue mashing those chromosomes together. This was not the giraffe’s fault. It did not ask to be the child of a small gene pool. Regardless, it was punished as if it did make the choice to be incompatible. A cruel and pointless death of a perfectly healthy creature.

Likewise, the very same zoo mismanaged their lion pride and killed four healthy lions (two older males and two cubs) to bring in one younger male who was apparently ready to knock up a lioness immediately and would’ve killed the cubs in no time. I’m guessing the idea to perhaps…oh I don’t know…separate the cubs and new male just didn’t cross the officials’ minds.  Or even better, leave their pride as it was, intact.  But it came down to money and the cubs’ lives simply were not profitable. Sadly, this zoo is not an exception to the rule.  Copenhagen is just one of the only ones to get caught.

elephants at Philly Zoo

elephants at Philly Zoo

Breeding aside, the everyday lives the animals endure are something of a concern as well. Giving a polar bear a pool of water big enough to fit maybe two of them is not the equivalent of being “free.”  It’s not even the illusion of freedom. Do you know how far a polar bear can swim? How far zebras and elephants can walk? It’s in their nature to roam and the zoo puts a tight lid on that. Nothing about the way they live is natural. Their food is handed to them. Their mates are introduced at specific times. They’re constantly surrounded by people pointing and yelling at them. And we wonder why they pace in circles all day long.

polar bear at Philly Zoo

polar bear at Philly Zoo

Zoo advocates can easily say that they may be getting the best, most nutritious food available. That the animals are never in danger of being hunted. That by taking them out of nature they are essentially given a life free of stress. But it’s a known fact that animals in captivity (especially larger animals) get depressed and while their lifespan may be longer I have reservations regarding it being more pleasant. In some instances the depression and/or lack of activity leads to chronic illness.  So while they live a long life, is a life in captivity a fair exchange for a few more years?  It’s hard to say.

leopard at Philly Zoo

leopard at Philly Zoo

On the other hand, some zoos have excellent programs focusing on saving endangered species. Other zoos take in wounded animals that would have died if left in the wild. For example, the San Francisco zoo houses two bald eagles, both of which were found near the brink of death (one is missing its right wing) but are now basking in the California sunshine rather than turning into compost. There is a zoo in Virginia that is strictly a rescue zoo taking in animals that have been injured and subsequently rehabilitated.  It’s a small zoo, but hey, the animals in their care would otherwise be dead because they certainly wouldn’t make it on their own in the wild.

Zoos also give children the chance to see exotic animals up close, hopefully creating a stronger bond (and therefore empathy) between human and animal that might carry over into a growing affinity for participating in conservation efforts….an extremely important cause. Plus, if not for a zoo, where else would most kids get the chance to see a hippo in real life?

In a perfect world we would have wild-life sanctuaries or nature preserves for all the endangered species but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. Actually, in a perfect world, there would be no endangered species because we, as humans, wouldn’t have continually destroyed the habitat of so many fellow creatures (but that’s a rant for another day).  In lieu of wide-spread sanctuaries or nature preserves, if a zoo is truly well run, well maintained and well-managed maybe it’s a good thing.

I’m not going to lie, I enjoy going to the zoo. Certain ones anyway. Unfortunately there are too many zoos that aren’t kept up to the standards I think they should be held to. I feel they need to be strictly monitored but even so, even if the animals are ensured safety by living in this fake habitat; is that worth the cost of their freedom? Ask yourself this: If you could check into a hotel for the rest of your life, all food is paid for, no charge, but you could never leave (hmm…that reminds me of a song), would that be a fair deal? Oh, and people can look in your windows whenever they want. Sound good? No? So then what’s the cost of your freedom? It’s a difficult question.  I certainly don’t have the answer to it.

penguins at Philly Zoo

penguins at Philly Zoo