If you’re like me, your commitment to veganism is rather abstract most of the time. I felt it viscerally when I first started on this journey, but over time there has been a gradual shift. I’m more likely to say that one reason I’m vegan is because of “animal suffering” rather than the common phrase “I’m vegan for the animals.” The latter phrase can sounds less grown up. It’s not. Every once in a while I have an interaction with an animal that reminds why this is so.
One day my mom hurriedly called me outside to show me a baby squirrel that she and my dad couldn’t figure out what to do with. He was on the pool fence, looking disoriented and crying out. He was thin and small—likely the runt of the litter—but he didn’t have any obvious health issues. A large nest had fallen out of the trees during a storm the previous night and we figured he had been left behind as the rest of the family relocated.
None of us wanted to touch him. He could be rabid after all. And what would happen if he had a human’s scent on him? Would his mother reject him? But we also didn’t want him to get in our pool and drown, or wander around the yard starving and defenseless.
My father grabbed some gloves from the shed and approached with caution, brandishing the glove to see if he would bite it. No reaction—so far so good. He then picked him up and placed him at the base of a nearby tree. That was it. We were his family now. He stuck to my dad like glue, even as we tried fruitlessly to go inside and give his mother a chance to rescue him. He followed us towards the house. We went back out and he was friendly with all of us—a truly gentle and cute creature. We gave up and decided that giving him a temporary home was better than leaving him to the mercy of nature.
We gave him three things over the next day: food, shelter and a name.
First, we called a friend who had experience raising squirrels. Hearing his cries through the phone, she told us that he was hungry and asking to be fed! We tried walnuts to no avail. Must be too young for solid food. We got a bottle and picked up some puppy milk replacer. Not vegan, I know, but that’s a discussion for another time. He greedily wolfed it down, gripping the bottle with both hands.
My parents brought down an old puppy crate, put down some padding and blankets and gave him a soft place to rest his head.
Still, we needed to do our due diligence and see if there were rehabs where Winston would be better off. The next morning my dad called animal control and was advised that they don’t rehab animals and that they could send someone to “get rid” of the squirrel. He left a note on the kitchen table that read simply:
Called animal control.
Spoke with Mary
Screw that, Winston’s not going!
So we gave him a name. Many contenders were considered and discarded, but we finally settled on Winston. My dad, being a history buff, enjoyed the idea of naming a squirrel after Churchill.
The plan was to rehab him until he was strong enough to go out into the wild and be on his own. He slept most of the day, which is probably normal for a young squirrel who has just fallen from his home. We would wake him up at meal times and bottle feed him. After about a half hour of play he was back asleep.
We tried to get him to go outside, but he seemed scared and would stay within a few feet of whoever brought him out. Still, he did crave it occasionally, sometimes even asking to go out side.
He also fancied the occasional ride on my shoulder.
All of this came to a sudden halt after five happy days with Winston. I got a call at work that he had died suddenly and without apparent cause. He had been running around the house all day, unusually active. He didn’t sleep a wink, as if his body gave him one last spurt of energy before finally giving out. It’s easy to see the warning signs in hindsight, but we were blindsided. I was certain Winston was steadily heading towards recovery.
I’m grateful that Winston had final days that were as enjoyable as any wild animal can reasonably expect. In return, he brought great joy to my family and I. He so quickly became part of the family.