Squirrel Hockey

Those who live in Colorado know how beautiful the scenery is, no matter the season, and the wildlife abounds. As the cities grow, though, they have been encroaching on the habitats of local animals. Deer are common sights in yards of homes near the foothills, and pronghorn are abundant on the plains, whether houses are around or not.

It surprises me how domesticated these animals can get around our house, even though we live on the city limits. Birds come right up to my back door, foxes nap in the shade under the tree in my backyard, raccoons had babies in our chimney, a skunk made a nest under our front porch, and we have lost more than one cat to a coyote. The strangest story, though, is about how a squirrel got into our house and lived there, without our knowledge, for several weeks.

One morning I was sitting on the couch reading with a cup of coffee when I heard the cat rummaging through the kibble in her dish. “She is being awfully loud about it,” I said aloud, peering under the kitchen table. I saw my cat asleep on one of the chairs. “Weird,” I thought. Then I saw the food dish—a squirrel was picking through its contents, eating only the tidbits of food it liked. Stupefied, I watched it nonchalantly eat its breakfast. It was not a very old squirrel, perhaps only a teenager, but it looked perfectly calm as it sat there on the pet mat, while my cat slept a few feet away. Obviously they had reached an understanding.

I got my husband, who put on some industrial gloves and tried to catch the squirrel. He ended up chasing it into the basement, which we don’t enter very often. If we had, we’d have seen the clues of several weeks of squirrel domestication: scat was everywhere, and anything chewable had been gnawed upon. We heard a scrabbling under the stairs, and we decided right then to call Matt.

Because we’d had so many wild encounters on our property, we were on a first name basis with Matt, the self-proclaimed “animal mover,” whom we chose because of his humane removal of animals, followed by their transplant into the forest near Palmer Lake. Matt was at our house within a few hours, by which time we had chased the squirrel up the stairs and into our now-inverted couch, where it was hiding.

Matt came in the back door with a squeeze bottle full of chloroform. He aimed at the squirrel and gave a hard squeeze, dousing the animal. No response, except scrabbling. Another squeeze—the squirrel didn’t move. We expected it to fall asleep, but suddenly the squirrel broke out and ran to the corner of the room. I took up a broom; my husband got a big piece of cardboard and acted as blocker near the couch, should it try to get back inside. Matt sprayed the squirrel again, who took off toward me. I patted it toward the center of the room with the broom, and it took off toward my husband, who blocked it with the cardboard. It pinged off the cardboard, back to my broom, then back to Matt, who squirted it again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Several laps later, we were laughing so hard we could barely focus, but maybe it was from the chloroform. Either way, this squirrel was still not going down. We wondered how a little squirrel could have so much energy after being sprayed with so much sleeping potion, and we realized we were playing our own version of “squirrel hockey.”

Finally, the squirrel ran into the bathroom. Matt chased after it, slamming the door behind him. We heard, “Scrabble, scrabble, squirt! Scrabble . . . scrabble, scrabble, squirt! Scrabble. . . ,” then nothing. Matt stepped triumphantly through the door with the squirrel hanging from his fist by the tail. One of its eyelids was twitching, but it was still awake. We were in awe that it was still not sleeping; so much chloroform had been sprayed in our small living room that we were all feeling a little woozy.

“He’ll be all right, but he’s gonna have one helluva headache in a couple hours,” Matt said. I followed him out to his truck where he placed the almost-comatose squirrel into a cage. “He’ll be fine. I have a nice tree with his name on it in the forest.” And Matt drove away, still chuckling.

I guess there are worse things than having nature encroach so much on your property that you are on a first-name basis with the animal mover. The skunk, for instance, was not fun to catch (I did learn they love peanut butter, though). Even so, I hope the animals stay away from the cat dish, and I’m going to keep a closer eye when the back door is open. The cat and I will stay inside, and the wildlife can stay outside.

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