Monday, April 07, 2008

Playing Through The Pain

Four of our resident squirrels should be on the "Injured Reserve List", but true athletes that they are they are still playing the game as if absolutely nothing was wrong with them.

The most seriously ill-looking one is basically half bald - a not totally unattractive color combination of pink and gray, but quite a texturally unnerving sight. According to a Purdue University website the cause is most likely either notoedric mange or one of any number of superficial fungal diseases called dermatophytoses. Both result in substantial fur loss. With the fungal disease it is "typically broken off at the skin, leaving a fine stubble of short hairs". Mange evidently leaves no trace of tresses. Neither Mars nor I have gotten close enough to browse for bristles - nor do we intend to. Another web site suggested setting up a hair comb sprinkled with anti-mange powder so that the squirrel could brush against it and self-medicate. We are not doing that either. Since whatever is ailing "Pinky" seems to be having absolutely no effect on his behavior, especially his acrobatic eating habits, the actual diagnosis and how to cure it is at most of academic interest.

As the Purdue article says: "The next time you see a squirrel with hair loss, don't become alarmed. In most cases, the hair will return with no apparent ill affects to the squirrel, other than perhaps some embarrassment and name calling among his squirrel friends."

The other three "I.R.s" look to be the victims of some form of inter or extra species violence.

One also has some exposed sections of skin - but much less than "The Pinkster". The bare patches, from our closest viewing distance of six feet or so, seem to show signs of having been bitten. We frequently see the tree rodents quarreling among themselves at the feeders - or it could be sex games. But either way we have never seen blood drawn during these conflicts (or consummations).

There is no shortage of squirrel-averse dogs and cats in our neighborhood, including a Yorkshire Terrier named Emmie Lou who pretty much every morning drags her considerably larger master across our front yard during her a.m. blood quest. And there are hawks, at least one of which has committed squirrel-cide in our neighborhood. In short there are more than enough suspects with motive and opportunity to explain the bodily trauma.

The other two injured squirrels likewise could be the intended victims of any of the above - especially the one with the severely shortened tail. The fourth one hobbles along on three legs and may also be the result of a mugging casualty - or simply the consequence of a bad fall. With the number of times these rodents are forced to make unanticipated aerial exits from great heights you would actually think that more of them should limping around.

When our son Bram was young he had several pet hamsters. One of them, perhaps either "Ratso Rizzo" or "Cleopatra", broke its front leg attempting to pry off the metal top of their Habittrail Cage (a.k.a. home fitness center). Within a week, even though we actually had our veterinarian put a splint on the injured appendage, it atrophied and fell off. Still I remember being incredibly impressed throughout the year or so that it lived with the injury that it never acted as if anything was wrong - even though its tube climbing technique had changed, of necessity, to a "two feet forward, one foot back" technique.

Similar to the squirrels the hamster probably didn't know any better, so it just kept on truckin'. Of course with animals in the wild - even the "wild" of our front yard - we don't get to see the squirrels that fail to adapt to their maladies or injuries. Instead they disappear to that mysterious, secret place where squirrels (other than road kill) go to die. Like the proverbially famous Elephant Graveyard of Tarzan and Trader Horn movies there exists somewhere in the suburbs of Connecticut a Squirrel Cemetery. This super-secluded site contains the tiny skeletons of innumerable tree rodents who knew that their time had come and who - out of kindness for the sensitivities and sensibilities of the "Friends of Squirrels" who nourish and write about them - quietly slipped away to die.

One more reason for us not to "become alarmed" about our hairless yard pets - we never have to see the consequences of our inaction.

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