The Tale Of Mr. Peanut

By Teresa Garden, DVM

February is Heart Health month and we were asked to write about heart matters. As a twist on the subject, I decided to take the opportunity to write about a chance encounter with one of God’s creatures which left an indelible impression upon my heart.

It was Saturday, August 31, in the hellish summer of 2013. At 6:30 am I was walking my dog Baby when we came across a little baby squirrel lying in the middle of the sidewalk two blocks from home. The little thing was breathing but not moving and its mouth was bloodied. I was in a hurry to get to work and I just wanted to walk on by and forget I even saw the poor creature. (I know, I am a very flawed human being.) I took 2-3 strides past the squirrel and then my conscious kicked in. It was already 90 degrees and forecasted to hit 107. I couldn’t see any squirrel nests in nearby trees so I had no clue where he came from or where his momma might be. I knew the baby would continue to dehydrate and die if I left him there or he would become prey for a dog or the numerous hawks and owls that frequent the neighborhood. (I also believed if I left him there I would surely go straight to hell.) So, of course, I picked him up, took him home, put him in a very small cat carrier and paraded off to work with Baby and squirrel in tow.

Once at work, my staff and I cleaned his mouth and muzzle and found no serious injuries. Lindsay asked, “What’s that thing?” I had to explain that it was a penis and our patient was a boy squirrel with boy parts. For the next 24 hours, I rehydrated the squirrel by giving him Lactated Ringers solution orally every 2-3 hours with a tuberculin syringe that he greedily suckled. That night we visited our neighbors for show and tell. Mason, their 5 year old grandson, named my squirrel Mr. Peanut.

The next morning I did an internet search to learn how to raise a baby squirrel. I downloaded “Squirrel Tales: A Manual of Infant Care for Beginners” from the Columbus Squirrel Rescue of Columbus, Georgia. This became my bible for the next 2 months of my life. After a thorough reading, I determined Mr. Peanut was 5 weeks old: his eyes were open, he was fully haired, and he slept all the time with his tail curled around his back. I slowly started him on formula given every 4 hours around the clock with a 6cc oral syringe. Mr. Peanut was soon thriving.

By the following week Mr. Peanut was 6 weeks old and became very active. The bad news was I had to go to Petsmart to buy a bigger cage. The good news was I only had to feed him every 6 hours so I no longer felt like the walking dead. Mr. Peanut went to work with Baby and me every day and he was able to start eating solid food. It was a thrill to see him eat his first piece of avocado. The squirrel manual tells us squirrels are wild animals and are not capable of loving humans and do not make good pets.
However, this information did not stop me from falling in love with him. And, Mr. Peanut most certainly bonded with me and seemed attached to me. When taking his formula, his black ball-bearing eyes would stare at me with the same loving and trusting look a human infant gives its mother. As Mr. Peanut got stronger, he would hold the syringe with his little squirrel hands…similar to a human baby. Feeding time consisted of many tender moments.

By 7-8 weeks of age, he would hang on the side of his cage and have me stroke his belly. We played tug of war with paper towels and wash rags. He would get excited and start playing if he heard the sound of my voice or if I came into his line of vision. He seemed to respond to his name.

By the time he was 9 weeks old, Mr. Peanut needed an even bigger cage since he was now about 3/4 the size of an adult squirrel. He was often flying around performing daring acrobatic feats, hanging upside down, and jumping from ledge to ledge. The cage was so large it wouldn’t fit into my Mini Cooper so Mr. Peanut now stayed home during the day while I worked. He was eating a variety of fruit and veggies and starting to eat nuts and acorns I collected from my yard and Carondelet Park. He still needed formula 3 times a day so I would go home at lunch to feed him.

When Mr. Peanut was about 10 weeks old I could leave his cage outside on nice days to help him acclimate to the outdoors. Most squirrels are ready to leave home at 12 weeks old. When I was home I would open the door to his cage and encourage him to explore the backyard. At first he steadfastly refused. Eventually he mustered enough courage to take a few tentative steps beyond his cage. Then Mr. Peanut immediately panicked, ran up my pant leg and perched on top of my head. He was terrified. I was terrified. He piddled in my hair. I think I piddled myself. After an eternity, he gingerly climbed down my back, thereby thankfully, not raking my face to shreds. For the next couple of weeks he would spend time outside in my backyard with his cage door open when I was home. But Mr. Peanut would only scramble around on the ground, go into my gardens, or sit on the lawn furniture… making himself a good target for predators. If I was outside he would sit on me or near me. He would follow me around the yard like a very tiny dog. I was afraid he was going to be 40 years old and living in my basement.

Around 12-13 weeks old he finally started climbing the trees in my backyard and was eating much less formula. He had become a handsome squirrel with a gray body, red face and legs and a very long, full bushy tail. A group of 3 squirrels that habituated my backyard made friends with him. But every evening, as twilight approached, he would sit on the ledge of my sun porch and scream for me to put him back into his cage. I felt sorry for him. I would put him in his cage and carry it inside to the sun porch. Mr. Peanut would immediately make a nest and go to sleep. I was still coming home at lunch to see how Mr. Peanut was doing outside in the backyard and to offer him formula. He was consuming less and less of it now.

On Monday October 21st I came home at lunch and Mr. Peanut was sitting on the ledge of the sun porch as usual. He refused his formula. We sat together on the back porch steps. I fed him some nuts and acorns. He spent some time sitting on my shoulder. I went back to work at 2:30pm. I came home from work at 7pm and Mr. Peanut was gone.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. Phone: 314-781-1738.