30 June 2008

A Chipmunk Story

Late last week, I glanced out our front window and saw a chipmunk hopping around the front yard. This is not an unusual sight, but the chipmunk in question was quite small. I went outside for a closer look, only to find that the chipmunk was indeed very small and it’s eyes were still closed.

I look around for the mother, but she was nowhere in sight.

We’ve had chipmunk babies before, but at this young age, they never venture far from one of the holes in the ground where the mother keeps the nest. If they do, we’ve seen the little mama drag them back into the hole, kicking and screaming.

This little guy was all alone, so with the help of my daughters, we nudged it back toward one of the holes. We didn’t touch it, because we weren’t sure if the mother might smell our scent and reject it. It didn’t understand the gentle nudgings with our shoes, but when we used a towel to pick it up and put it right next to the wall of the house, it scurried along the wall until it came to a small hole, and scampered inside. Later, I wished I’d taken a photo, but alas, the main objective was to rescue the chipmunk, which we did.

Or so we thought.

Yesterday, we came home from church through heavy thunderstorms. As we ducked into the garage, my husband spotted a waterlogged, half-dead, baby chipmunk lying in our garden. It was on the other end of the house from the hole where the same chipmunk (we assume) had scampered down the hole a couple of days earlier.

Without a second thought, I scooped up the little beast into my hands and immediately tried to give it some warmth. It was shaking, but completely unresponsive...

After I held it for a few minutes, it began to move slightly, so we put it into a shoe box full of soft paper towels. Then my daughter held the box in front of the open oven...

Soon, the little guy was dry and the rain had stopped. We hesitantly put it back outside in the front garden, near the hole it had originally run into, just a couple of days before...

The baby seemed hesitant, but after some serious nudging on our part, it went back into the same hole as before. But then it turned around and faced out. As I said before, its eyes weren’t yet opened, so it just sat there at the edge of the hole, facing out.

Then we waited. For the mother to come back, for the baby to go farther into the hole, or for SOMETHING to happen.

Nothing happened.

After a few hours, we were afraid the tiny little guy would die, plus, it would be dark soon. So we scooped the chipmunk back into the shoebox and put it back by the open oven...

Now it was time to figure out what to do – and to figure it out before all the local pet stores closed for the evening.

It was also at that point that my husband kept shaking his head at our daughter and me, telling us we ought to just leave it outside.

Maybe it was losing our cat just yesterday, maybe it was our inherent love for chipmunks, or maybe we just had a bit of baby-fever. We were NOT leaving this little guy out there alone, with no mother to care for him, more thunderstorms on the way, and with the neighbors cats always lurking nearby.

We did some research on the trusty internet and then popped up to the local pet store to buy puppy formula, a tiny nursing kit, and a small cage in which to keep our new houseguest.

THIS SITE is where we found all the helpful information we needed.

We also got a hot water bottle to serve as a surrogate cage mom for the time being.

By the time we got back from the store, the chipmunk had perked up a lot. Reminiscent of having a newborn, I mixed the puppy formula, put it in the tiny bottle, tested it on my wrist, and we began the adventure of feeding this little critter.

My daughter held him in her hand (I insisted that she wear gloves because he liked to grab EVERYTHING with his little front teeth). She tilted him back and I put the little nipple into his mouth, while alternately squeezing a bit of formula onto his tongue. He just sat there for a moment, unsure of what we were doing, and then suddenly, he grabbed onto the nipple with his front paws and tried to devour it whole...

We had to hold him back so he wouldn’t suck down the entire contents of the bottle (the chipmunk website warned us about that) and then after a minute or so, he seemed to have had enough and he crawled into a little box we’d put in the cage.

We were instructed to do this every 3-4 hours, though I confess that we had a 5 hour stretch between midnight and 5:00 a.m. My daughter took the midnight shift and I got up with the chickens... or the chipmunk, as it were.

The little guy was even feistier and hungrier this morning. He tried to pull the bottle out of my hand...

Do you like the tea box we gave him as a bedroom? My favorite kind of tea, and quite appropriate, I think.

Now when I should be cleaning the house, paying bills and rousing the troops, I've been searching the internet and making phone calls about where to place our little chipmunk. While there is a part of me that would like to do this ourselves, raise him to adulthood, and then release him into the wild, I am no expert. I'm just happy we got him through the first night. I'd like to send him on to an adoptive family who really knows what it's doing. After leaving several phone messages all over the area, I'm waiting now to find out what the next step will be.

Stay tuned...


I finally got a call back from a lady who does this for a living - rescues wild animals which are orphaned, injured, or ill, and takes care of them until they can be re-released into the wild. We will deliver the little chipmunk to her this evening.

Thanks for all the great emails, comments, and myspace messages. More pictures will follow later, after he has gone to his new home.

Copyright © 2008 - Paulla Estes


BeevsterK said...
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Paulla said...

Thanks so much for the offer to raise him - I put an edited comment on the blog - I found a lady who rescues animals for a living. We will take the chipmunk to her tonight.

I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your cat. It is such a hard thing, isn't it? Do you think you'll get another cat? Hang in there, and thanks for writing. (((Big Hugs)))

BeevsterK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KathyLikesPink said...

Wow, what a story! I'm so glad you posted it and the pictures. I called Darling Daughter in and shared it with her. Glad it has a happy ending! (I wonder what happened to dear old mom?)

Sarah said...

I happened onto your blog and enjoy very much. I have read a few, thank you for writing so well that I can look through your heart. Born and raised in central NY, summers on Orrs and now living in CA.. I miss these same simple moments from those years that you describe so well. I raised a chipmunk and released it back as a young adult. It was fun and they are so smart. Brings back great memories. Thank you again - will return for sure. Sarah

Paulla said...

Hi Kathy - thanks for all the great comments. I was sorry to hear about your cats, too. It's such a hard, hard thing.

Sarah, thank you so much for the kind words. Glad you'll be back - and maybe you'll get back to Maine too, one day. :) Where in CA? I lived in San Diego and Monterey, years ago.

Michelles Avon said...

Wow, what a neat story and great pictures!!! I just stumbled across this after searching for what caused these little holes in my yard :)
I've had moles for a couple of summers and raccoons invading my garage this summer but this is a first with chipmunks! I really don't know what to do..... I know they've been here a while, this is just the first time I've seen their holes. I don't know how bad they are to have around or if I need to find a way to run then off :/