FURRY FRIEND

How an in­jured baby squir­rel was rescued

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Pam LeBlanc ple­blanc@states­man.com

Meet Fudgie the Squir­rel, who en­joys un­der­arm rubs, pecans and warm of­fices.

Last Au­gust, when he was just a few weeks old, Linda McCoy found him ly­ing on the side­walk out­side her South Austin busi­ness, in­jured and aban­doned. She scooped him up, whisked him in­doors, warmed him by tuck­ing him in her bra, and searched on­line to fig­ure out what to do next.

The fox squir­rel fit in the palm of her hand. Its eyes hadn’t yet opened. It ap­par­ently had fallen from a nest high in a tree­top; it was bleed­ing slightly from a bump on its head. Heed­ing ad­vice she read on the in­ter­net, McCoy placed him in a card­board box from a fudge store she’d vis­ited in Michi­gan. The tiny an­i­mal curled up in some shred­ded pa­per, and she set the box — with a note taped to it that said, “Don’t take the squir­rel” — back out­side.

She hoped the squir­rel’s mother would re­trieve it. But a few hours later, noth­ing had hap­pened. When night fell, McCoy de­cided to take the squir­rel home. (Who wouldn’t be tempted? But read on to find out why that’s not al­ways such a good idea.) Based on more re­search, she fed the squir­rel straw­berry-fla­vored Pe­di­a­lyte from an eye­drop­per. The next morn­ing, she bought some puppy milk re­place­ment, and Fudgie be­gan his re­cov­ery.

To­day Fudgie’s ears re­sem­ble tawny-col­ored rose petals; his eyes are black pearls. He eats Henry’s Healthy Squir­rel Blocks and the oc­ca­sional un­shelled nut. (He likes pecans best.) He likes to pil­fer items off McCoy’s desk. He once swiped a tape dis­penser, and he likes to chew on a tooth­brush he car­ried to the top of his dou­ble-decker wire cage. He’s been known to bury nuts in McCoy’s hair, es­pe­cially if she’s wear­ing braids. His way of flip­ping, jump­ing and som­er­sault­ing looks like a squir­rel’s ver­sion of park­our.

“I wasn’t plan­ning on be­ing a squir­rel mom, but he’s been a lit­tle joy,” says McCoy, a com­pet­i­tive pad­dle­board racer who owns a text­book con­sult­ing com­pany. She also has two sons, ages 21 and 11. “He’s like my lit­tlest kid.”

Hay­ley Hud­nall, an Austin wildlife re­ha­bil­i­ta­tor, says oth­ers who find aban­doned baby squir­rels should re­sist the temp­ta­tion to bring them into their homes. Ob­serve the an­i­mal for an hour or two first.

“Some­times Mom will come back down and get it if it’s an ac­ci­dent,” says Hud­nall, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Austin Wildlife Res­cue. “If she doesn’t, bring (the baby) to us and we’ll get it on the right diet and raise it with other squir­rels so it can go back out into the wild.”

Un­der Texas Parks and Wildlife reg­u­la­tion, it’s il­le­gal for any­one with­out a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion per­mit to raise a fur-bear­ing an­i­mal. McCoy does not have a per­mit, but has since joined the Na­tional Wildlife Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tors As­so­ci­a­tion and filled out an ap­pli­ca­tion for a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion per­mit with Texas Parks and Wildlife De­part­ment. She says she has no plans to res­cue any other an­i­mal and sim­ply wanted to save one baby squir­rel.

Squir­rel sea­son is just gear­ing up. Austin Wildlife Res­cue typ­i­cally gets hun­dreds of baby squir­rels as it starts to warm up in late Fe­bru­ary, and again in July and Au­gust.

McCoy hopes to re­lease Fudgie to the wild as soon as tem-

per­a­tures are warm enough. “Fudgie is go­ing to start spend­ing more time out­side,” she says. “(I’m) start­ing to tran­si­tion him to­ward re­lease. It makes me sad to think about, but that’s what’s best for him.”

In the mean­time, she wears long gloves when she han­dles Fudgie, who roams freely around her of­fice, where she brings him ev­ery day. When he was a baby, she hid him in her shirt and took him with her to run er­rands.

To­day he trav­els in a bright green back­pack with a porthole win­dow that looks like a space cap­sule. Some­times Fudgie naps on McCoy’s lap, and he leaves tiny paw prints on her com­puter screen. He raises his paws bliss­fully when she scratches his un­der­arms. He also chirps and grunts, de­pend­ing on his mood.

“He’s kind of a spaz,” McCoy says. “Very ac­ro­batic and cu­ri­ous.”

This fall, she took him to visit her sis­ter in Bo­erne. She let him out­side, where he dashed to the top of a tree, then came down when she called him. The same thing hap­pened the next day.

“I think I’d be OK with him not com­ing back if it’s not cold out­side. My fear is he’s not go­ing to be afraid of hu­mans,” McCoy says. “I’m fully pre­pared to keep him as a pet if I have to. But I feel like he de­serves to be out in the trees.”

ANA RAMIREZ / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Fudgie leaps from a counter in Linda McCoy’s home. The squir­rel runs around McCoy’s kitchen ev­ery morn­ing while she makes break­fast.

PAM LEBLANC/AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Linda McCoy trans­ports Fudgie back and forth to work in this bright green back­pack with a built-in win­dow.

ANA RAMIREZ / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Linda McCoy wears gloves while hold­ing Fudgie to pro­tect her hands from his claws.

ANA RAMIREZ / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN PHO­TOS

Fudgie roams around Linda McCoy’s of­fice on Jan. 17. McCoy rescued the squir­rel dur­ing the sum­mer when she found him on a side­walk. Wildlife experts say it’s best to leave baby squir­rels alone so their moth­ers can re­trieve them, or to bring them to experts for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Fudgie munches on a pe­can.

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