Willow survived, virtually unscathed, except for an occasional head tilt, which is the result of falling when he made his escape from the raccoon attack. Because Willow required intimate handling and special care, he was unable to acclimate for release back into the wild, but it’s okay, he much prefers climate control, pre-cracked nuts, and Egyptian cotton sheets.
Who is Brooklyn?
Brooklyn is Willow’s “mom” in people form. She is a wildlife rehabilitator and was and animal trainer for film & TV at one time. She hosted a radio show called “The Truth About Pets & People”, acting as an advocate for animals, both domestic and wild, and answering on air questions from callers seeking advice about all things animals. She is also a film director and screenwriter, as well as the author of “Wishbone”, an Amazon Best Selling thriller series.
How Can I Get a Squirrel?
Straight up… it is illegal to keep a squirrel as a pet in most U.S. States. The sad truth is, someone will eventually get nipped and report you, or your squirrel will inevitably have a bout of illness or an accident, and upon seeking veterinary care, he/she will be confiscated by the veterinarian (who is obligated to do so by law). Not to mention, if they made good pets, they would be in every pet store across the nation…there’s a valid (behavioral) reason why they aren’t. I get it through; they ARE cute!
All confiscated squirrels ARE PUT TO DEATH, deemed unacceptable for release. They are not an endangered animal and therefore destroyed because, having been raised by humans, they will typically become a nuisance, breaking into homes for food, or find trouble seeking the attention of unsuspecting passersby, who mistake their interaction for an attack.
When rehabilitated by a well-meaning, but inexperienced person, they are released improperly and often incapable of fully fending for themselves, avoiding danger, and regularly finding food and water. True rehabilitation is much more than just keeping them alive and loved until they reach the age of release.
This above photo is the leg of a squirrel rehabilitator. The bites and scratches to our arms, legs, backs, hands, and yes, sometimes faces, is not due to aggression, but rather from routine climbing and play. There is no way to avoid it, except to live in many layers of heavy clothing. Summers suck!
While it may be tempting to keep a fallen baby squirrel, you are simply setting yourself up for heartache later by attempting to keep a squirrel as a pet. The most unselfish and kind thing to do, when you find a baby or injured squirrel, is to seek a licensed rehabilitator online, or through a veterinarian.
If you want the experience of rehabilitating a squirrel, work with a licensed rehabilitator, who will talk you through the process and teach you how to properly prepare a young squirrel for successful release.
Willow is licensed for education purposes – he is a permitted wildlife ambassador; though, truthfully, while I post cute videos of Willow, he is still a wild animal. I spend my life covered in claw marks and replacing furniture. Squirrels DO NOT do well in cages and typically survive only 1 to 5 years if caged; yet they have a 20-year life-span, when uncaged and properly cared for.
Squirrels require a level of mental and physical stimuli that caging simply does not offer, even if they are allowed a few hours of free-play daily, it just isn’t enough to promote mental health in these highly active and intelligent creatures, and caging can lead to aggression, depression, poor nutrition, and even self-mutilation.
Indoor squirrels are also highly susceptible to MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) and require high doses of pure calcium carbonate as a daily supplement (no vitamin D calcium — Calcium CARBONATE only!). Dependent on their diet and health, they require 100 to 1200 mg’s daily and it takes an experienced eye and training to know what dosage is necessary on any given day, which will vary. This crippling and deadly disease comes on fast and is devastating! Outdoor squirrels do not develop MBD…it is a disease caused by captivity. They will also gnaw the bars of a cage causing tumors to develop and misaligned teeth.
Willow lives free in my home, like a dog or cat. This means, I have few visitors during his wake hours — squirrels are rather possessive and territorial. Some mature squirrels have even been known to attack visitors. I am also constantly replacing wood furniture, molding, blinds, pillows, cords, remote controls, and items around my home, which he regularly destroys (squirrels MUST chew as their teeth grow continuously throughout their entire lives). I supply Willow with a fresh, 3-foot walnut tree branch, daily. He turns them into shredded toothpicks by bedtime.
What to feed squirrels in the backyard?
70% of squirrels die before they reach one-year of age, due to starvation, so feeding your neighborhood squirrels a few snacks is a fun and kind thing to do, especially in winter.
I will never understand why people love to feed birds (who can fly and find food more easily), but get angry when squirrels eat from their bird feeder — Speciesism much?
Nuts are a fun treat for squirrels, so are sunflower seeds and corn, which they love, but too much is not healthy for them either, as they are high in fat (a little extra fat in fall/winter is a good idea). Limit your offerings and goodies to small treats so they will continue to forage for healthier, naturally local alternatives.
Feed your squirrels TREATS, not meals, or they may become dependent and possibly over breed, causing more babies to starve when you move or decide to stop feeding them because they are now chewing through your screens for expected meals.
Feel free to offer them fruit or uncooked vegetables you might otherwise have thrown away. Grain products can also be offered as treats, like cereals. Avoid salted or sugar-coated cereals, seeds and nuts. Another nice thing you can do is to place a container of fresh, cool water beneath a tree each morning. When feeding squirrels on the ground, please do so at the base of a tree as birds of prey and cats will come hunting, and your squirrels might be too busy eating and not paying attention to predators. Feeding at the base of a tree allows them a quick escape route.
If Willow is never caged, where does he potty?
Willow is completely potty trained. He uses incontinence pads (like wee-wee pads, but washable). Squirrels are very clean and will not soil where they eat or sleep.
Are Squirrels smart or just fluffy rats?
First, rodents are highly intelligent. Just pop over to Youtube and watch a few videos about rats and I guarantee you will think differently about them, especially their cleanliness and intelligence. Be sure to watch videos of trained rats performing tricks.
Sadly, squirrels are often referred to as pests. There is nothing further from the truth! Just to give you some insight into their emotions, if a mother squirrel is killed, the other female squirrels will each adopt one baby from her nest until they are all spoken for.
Squirrels (and other rodents) giggle! Yes…if you tickle them, they laugh — look up rats laughing on Youtube. When I’m upset, Willow will come to me and rub his chin all over my face and lips, and pat at my face with his little hands. If someone pretends to hit me, he charges them, chattering his teeth. The idea that people set glue traps (or worse) to destroy squirrels is heartbreaking. Living with a squirrel, I assure you, they are highly intelligent and very much like a small dog…it is the equivalent to setting a glue trap to get rid of a stray Chihuahua – it’s barbaric!
If you need to remove a family of squirrels from your attic, please seek a humane alternative (there are many), and remember, they’re just trying to keep their babies safe and warm. They’ll move out as soon as the babies are old enough to go.
As for intelligence, Willow knows 17 commands and tricks (crawl, jump, sit up, stand tall, bring it, and more). He loves when I place nuts in baby food jars and will use his fingers to open the jar and remove the treat. He knows how to open child-locks and door handles by watching what I do then mimicking me. If I offer him a treat and he wants something else, he will bring the bag of his choice to me and trade.
Willow loves television, especially horror films (he loves scary noises and music). He also loves the movie Happy Feet. He will stretch out on the couch watching television for hours.
He knows his name and instructional phrases such as “easy” when he plays a bit too rough, and he knows his toys by name. He shows clear signs of embarrassment if he makes a mistake and is devastated if he thinks you’re upset with him (he sulks). Squirrels are not pests. They are highly intelligent and emotional beings.
Preparing a baby squirrel for release?
If you raise a squirrel to believe humans (cats, dogs) are their friends, or to be accustomed to being indoors, and then try to release them, they rarely survive for long. Imagine spending months caring for an adorable baby squirrel, only to have them “wild up” (which they always do) and suddenly you are forced to release them due to bites and damage to your home. That squirrel will lack the survival skills necessary to acclimate to life outdoors and your months of good care will have been a wasted effort.
When hungry, they will opt for the easy (and familiar) route, attempting to break into people’s homes through screens, chimneys, or open doors. Not everyone is happy to see a squirrel in their house and this often ends in disaster. Improperly rehabbed squirrels are also likely to jump on unsuspecting people, climbing their legs and backs, which is often mistaken as an attack. Some inexperienced, well-meaning individuals attempt to release their babies far into the woods. This is also a problem because, during the transition period, properly rehabilitated squirrels need their diets supplemented (remember, 70% of squirrels die from starvation in the first year).
They need to explore new foods and practice foraging and building secure nests (dreys), while still coming back for extra nutrition and until the rehabilitator feels they are ready for full release.
We also move them out of the house and into a very large outdoor cage for several weeks before allowing them to test out their skills in the free world. We stop handling them like babies and allow them to develop a healthy reluctance toward people and other animals, to aid their chance for survival. That’s the toughest part…to go from bottle feeding, cuddling and loving on these babies, and then having to move them outdoors and cease all handling and physical interaction, is brutal, but truly necessary. Initially, it’s a tough time for all.
All the above said, I have been forced to make many changes to my home and lifestyle, to accommodate life with Willow. He is my constant companion, my writing partner, my fur-soul-mate, and the sun, the moon, and the stars for me…he is truly the love of my life. He is relentlessly naughty and bossy, and needy, but I wouldn’t trade one second of one day with Willow. He makes my life incredibly special and serves as a constant reminder to be good to the earth and nature, but also to be good to myself, because this furry gift of wilderness relies on me, and I am the sun, moon and stars to him ♥
Watch Willow on Youtube…