One thing you can count on when spring comes is the birth of all kinds of backyard creatures.
Baby chipmunks, moles, birds and bunnies, not to mention squirrels, appear in abundance.
Every mother is looking for a safe place to raise her new family.
This year, the squirrels decided to make our unfinished attic their home.
The first inkling we had been invaded came in the middle of the night. I was awake and thought I heard the sound of little paws. I dismissed it as my imagination, but when I brought a piece of luggage down a few weeks later and found a nut in the top flap, I knew they were up there.
My husband, Max, borrowed a Havahart trap and baited it with peanut butter, nuts and an apple core.
Within a few days we caught our first critter: a flying squirrel, a smaller version of the gray squirrel, that is nocturnal and can glide between trees. They have a lot of predators, so it’s no wonder our attic seemed a fantastic refuge.
Feeling hopeful this was the only one there, Max took the squirrel to a wooded area over the South Carolina border. We had heard that if you don’t release them at least 10 miles away they can find their way back.
Max set the trap again as a precautionary measure.
We caught another one, and another and another, releasing them in the same location each time in case they were a family.
After the flying squirrels were extracted, we thought our guests were gone. But within a week, we heard telltale sounds; the trap would need to be set again.
The next batch proved stealthier. At first we found the trap sprung and the bait nibbled on through the mesh.
Then the cage would be tipped over into the attic insulation.
These shenanigans went on for weeks.
Finally, Max set a path of nuts directly into the trap, and he caught one.
It was a big, fat gray squirrel, and it was furious at being caught. It made throaty noises and turned around so hard in the cage trying to get free that its nose was red from rubbing on the mesh. The next day it was released into the wild in South Carolina.
Figuring the squirrels were gone, Max had some workers fix the soffit where the squirrels had originally chewed their way in.
The day after we caught the angry squirrel, Max decided to double-check things in the attic. When he opened the door, there on the steps was a baby squirrel so little he couldn’t even get up the step to run away.
We realized the squirrel we had just released was the mother of this baby. The little one struggling on the steps was now an orphan, and helping him became our main priority.
We decided we would set the trap that night to try to catch it.
When we got home that afternoon, the men had come and closed up the soffit. We were shocked to see there were two baby squirrels sitting on a pallet of concrete blocks three stories below the hole in the soffit.
Apparently they had gotten too close to the opening and fallen. Miraculously, they seemed all right but definitely were frightened and confused.
We knew they wouldn’t make it through the night outside on their own. We coaxed them into a box with some food and warm rags to curl up in and retreated to make a plan.
First thing the next day, Max contacted Animal Rehabilitators of the Carolinas to see if someone could take the baby squirrels.
ARC is a Charlotte nonprofit that provides trained volunteers to care for orphaned or injured animals. ARC volunteers facilitate rehabilitation efforts in the area where the animal is found.
We were connected with Emory Spivock, 14, the principal rehabilitator in her family. Her mother, Yvette, serves as general helper, while her father, Bill, is in charge of transportation. Older brother Bryston, 16, helps with feedings.
Emory attends Providence Day School, but her work with animals is what fills her life. In addition to working with ARC, she also volunteers with Carolina Waterfowl Rescue.
The Spivocks, who live in the Carrington subdivision, have turned their house into an animal nursery.
The day I visited, Emory showed me a room dedicated to caring for her youngest charges. There were boxes filled with litters of baby possums, and several orphaned gray squirrels.
Emory carefully pulled out a couple of babies and held them in her hand. As she explained her rehabilitation plans for each, I could tell this work was more than a job for her; it is a joy and passion.
“In order to become an ARC rehabilitator, I had to get a license,” said Emory. “I had to do a two-day training session. The NC Wildlife Commission came out and inspected our house to make sure it met standards. Then we got the permit.”
A volunteer with CWR since she was 10, Emory was ready for the responsibility of being an ARC volunteer long before she started with the organization. But it’s her nurturing demeanor and love of these animals that is so extraordinary.
“If you save an animal, you’re helping change that animal’s world,” Emory said.
Her face lights up when she talks about the animals in her care. “I can honestly say the animals are my friends,” Emory said.
And we are grateful she gave our baby squirrels a second chance.
Nancy Thomason is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Nancy? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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