Saturday, August 11, 2012


From the Teachable Moment  October 1996

" Once again, a unit study was plopped right into our laps! Ever since Aletheia Robinson was raising her orphaned baby squirrels (this occurred during the EcoShow), I had always intended to contact St. Francis Wildlife and have our family receive the training. I knew it would be a great unit study for our family. However, I never could make myself get around to it.

Then three weeks ago, Shelley came home from her Scout meeting with a  little present. As the Scouts were cleaning their meetinghouse, a hole in an outer wall was discovered. As one of the girls began vacuuming out debris, something fell on the ground. At first, the girls all thought it was a bird, then a rat. However, it turned out to be an infant squirrel. The leader took it and put it in some nearby bushes. After the meeting, it was still lying there, so Shelley scooped it up and brought it home.

We called Northwood Animal Hospital and learned it would be okay to feed it baby formula for the night. The person on call suggested that the best thing would be to bring it in to him. You can imagine the outcry that resulted from that suggestion! We all piled into the van and drove to my sister-in-law's house to borrow formula. Caution: I learned the next day from Anne Gatz of St. Francis Wildlife that squirrels don't do well with milk-based formula, so soybean-based formula would be better for this situation. Fortunately, we had  a 3 cc syringe on hand to feed it with. Caution: I also learned squirrels have powerful force when they suck and could aspirate with a 3 cc syringe; 1 cc syringes are recommended.

The next day was spent learning all about squirrels and their care via telephone calls to others who had done this project and especially to Anne Gatz (who has been a saint for putting up with all the questions!). We drove across town to pick up the special formula the squirrels do best on. We set up the habitat involving the box being half-on and half- off a heating pad. The box was quickly upgraded to a glass aquarium once the squirrel's eyes were opened.

We decided the squirrel could be our 12 year old's project with our supervision. Caution: don't undertake this unless you're willing to do a lot of close supervising. Baby squirrels are fragile and their systems are easily upset.

Then we found out that you really should have more than one squirrel for best results. We ended up with two more squirrels,so the whole family is really involved now. A friend loaned us a great book on raising wild orphan babies written by a veterinarian and we attended a training session put on by St. Francis Wildlife. The kids are keeping squirrel journals. We have covered so many areas of learning in just 3 weeks of this project! Sometimes, the unit studies that fall into our laps turn out to be the best ones! Just be prepared to invest some of your time if you undertake one similar to this!"

2012 Followup: When this article was published, we were in the very beginning stages. What someone really needs to know before starting such a project is that newborns are all the same. They have to be fed every 3 hours or so, even during the night! It was great for our kids to participate in this. We never had to worry about teenage pregnancies in this family! And then the squirrels became teenagers with very sharp claws! Ouch! They had to be handled with gloves on. It became much less fun taking care  of them at this stage. As they advanced to real food, the cage cleanup became very messy work. We released them into the woods out in the middle of nowhere between us and Crawfordville. This was done out of respect for our neighbors. One of our neighbors was hopping mad we were saving them since he had had so much trouble with them ripping the insulation out from under his house. I have since learned from other friends that they had bitten through wires under the hoods of their cars and bitten through wires in attics. I have friends who believe a good squirrel is a dead squirrel! As Matthew grew older, we didn't do an orphaned squirrel project for him but focused on goats and he had his own baby goat to bottlefeed after the mother had rejected him. Matthew named him Blackie (he was black with a white spot on his side) and barely had a voice. Again,he had to be fed during the night. The kids dressed him in baby clothes and he actually came to church with us the second day of his life since we lived too far away to come home and feed him between meetings. He ended up on a farm 8 miles away from us when he was larger, so we saw him frequently as we drove by that area.

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