#StayWild Tip: Save a wild life. If you find a house guest inside, catch and release it – don’t kill it!
When I was thirteen I used to walk home from school through a small wood called Perry Wood. I was fairly well camouflaged – my school uniform back then included a bottle-green blazer, ideal for sneaking up on woodland critters.
One Spring afternoon I was idly strolling through the woods and spotted a baby grey squirrel laying amongst the drifts of beech leaves by the side of the path. It’s eyes were open, and it had a little blood at its nose. It made soft squeaky sounds. The tail was long and thin, having not yet developed adult bushiness.
I remember not having a clue what to do, but I do remember feeling terribly conflicted about the right thing to do. I sat, squatting for a while, trying to think. Was it baby birds that you were supposed to leave? Or put back in the nest? What about squirrels? Right or wrong, I scooped him up in my hands, popped him into my inside blazer pocket, and made quickly for home.
This began my year-long friendship with my little squirrel, who I named Skizz after a character in a 2000A.D. comic strip. At first he lived in a small hamster cage, although he rarely spent much time in there. As he grew he enjoyed climbing the furniture, especially curtains which he would scale as quickly and nimbly as an adult squirrel. In the evening I would let him sleep in my bedroom, and he developed a habit of curling up on my chest for the night.
Every morning and every day when I got home from school, I would sneak him out of the cage and into my pocket, and he would accompany me as I delivered papers. Over time he would come to sit on my shoulder as I walked, and I gained something of a reputation. People would open their front doors to admire him, or sometimes feed him peanuts.
I loved Skizz, and I’m confident that he was very fond of me. He was the first “pet” I had ever had, amongst various gerbils, hamsters and bunnies, that showed affection and a need for companionship. We went everywhere together. Even when I traveled nearly 400 miles by car with my family for a holiday, Skizz came along. When I came home from school and opened his cage (which upgraded over time into a capacious, double-wardrobe sized enclosure in the garden), he would be waiting and would spring from his branch into my arms, quickly scurrying to his favorite position either on my left shoulder or, in wetter weather, curled up inside my sleeve. Once, he fell from a curtain pole and landed on the floor, cutting his chin. He sat back on his hind legs, squeaking, and looking up at me with both little forearms raised and outstretched, just like a small child.
Skizz died one evening while I was asleep, almost exactly a year after scooping him into my pocket on the woodland path. I woke to find him in his usual position, curled on my chest, eyes closed and peaceful. I was deeply deeply sad for a long time as you might imagine – he was my best friend. I cared intensely for all wild things, especially for this one furry orphan who I had taken into my stewardship. I never knew if there was anything I could have done to prolong his life.
I’ve had a number of pets since (including a lovely large iguana called Sanchez), and it is always tragic when they die, but I treasure my memories of Skizz as some of the most memorable. Grey squirrels are maligned and persecuted because of their non-indigenous status and impact on red squirrels, but I can’t help but admire these acrobatic, charismatic rodentsrodents.