Rachel, a licensed wildlife rehabber in Rochester, New York, considers Jeremy the squirrel one of her “most special wildlife patients.” He came into her life in an unexpected way, and she never imagined how close they’d become.
You don’t normally think of squirrels as companions, but Jeremy seemed to truly connect with Rachel. She gained his trust and love by caring for him, so naturally, he felt comfortable around her.
“He still comes to visit me every single day, and if I’m ever out for a walk in the neighborhood and he hears my voice, he’ll come and find me,” she says.
An Unusual Friendship Between a Woman and a Squirrel
Their story began in the spring of 2020 when a woman told Rachel about an injured baby squirrel she’d found. She’d contacted other rehabbers in the area, but couldn’t find anyone to care for him, according to Rachel.
“It was during the height of the pandemic. A lot of rehabbers were struggling to make ends meet and weren’t able to take in as many animals as usual,” she explained.
“She had no transportation, so I made the drive to pick up little Jeremy and brought him home with me. Since he was all alone, I became not only his surrogate mom, but also his playmate.”
Jeremy seemed to sense immediately that he was in good hands. He warmed up to Rachel quickly and started to improve in no time. Rachel knew exactly how to help him with her experience as a wildlife rehabber.
“He was very playful and affectionate with me, so we used his playtime as a form of therapy to strengthen that injured arm and help him recover some function,” she said. “I spent long hours each day with him doing physical therapy and massage.”
Returning The Squirrel To The Wild
Releasing Jeremy back to his natural habitat was tough, but he wasn’t gone forever
One of the hardest parts of being a rehabber is releasing an animal you’ve bonded with back to the wild. However, Rachel wanted to see him thriving where he belonged and knew the day had come to let him go.
“It finally got to the point where I knew he was going to recover enough to eventually be released back into the wild,” Rachel said. “When Jeremy was about three months old, we began the pre-release process out in my enclosed porch where he could acclimate to the sights and sounds of the outdoors.”
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She’d been preparing him for a while before officially releasing him. She wanted to make sure he had the skills necessary to survive in the unforgiving, harsh elements.
“He spent time developing behaviors that would help him survive in the wild like nest building, jumping and climbing, and storing food. When he finally proved himself ready, I opened the door and he was free to come and go on his own,” Rachel says.
However, when she finally gave him freedom, he didn’t stray too far from home. He’d become too attached to Rachel in their short time together.
“Jeremy decided to build a nest in a tree a few doors down, but he would still come home several times a day to visit me,” Rachel says.
Jeremy Needed Rachel’s Help One More Time
One day, though, he didn’t come to visit her, so she instinctively knew something was wrong.
“I went out looking for him and found that he had suffered a terrible injury. He was having trouble standing and walking, but he was too scared to let me get near him at first,” Rachel recalls. “The very next morning, though, I found him back inside my porch waiting for me like he knew he needed my help.”
Rachel once again came to his rescue and rehabilitated him. It’s rare for a wild animal to trust a human so much, but Jeremy knew he could count on Rachel.
“Eventually, he healed up enough to be set free again. The most rewarding thing has been to see him adjust back to life in the wild while still being able to maintain a relationship with me.”
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While Jeremy needed a safe environment to heal, Rachel knew she couldn’t keep him. Once again, she had to make the painful decision to let him go. However, squirrels need each other for survival, so isolating him from his natural environment would be selfish. Despite a squirrel’s ability to bond with humans and other animals, they thrive being around their own kind.
“Squirrels are wild animals, so I knew Jeremy would be happiest living life free in the trees. It’s very difficult to provide for the needs of a wild animal in captivity, so I would never recommend keeping a squirrel as a pet. But, Jeremy’s example shows that these animals are very resilient, and they have an emotional intelligence that should be appreciated and respected.”
If you happen to find a baby squirrel in the wild, you can find details here on how to care for it. After taking care of its basic needs, however, it’s important to find a wildlife rehabber near you. They have the experience and skills necessary to provide advanced care for wild animals like squirrels. However, if you’re an animal lover, you should consider getting a license of your own!
“I would encourage anyone who loves wildlife and wants to interact with them to explore the options in your area for becoming a wildlife rehabilitator,” Rachel says. “It’s not easy, and there’s not always a happy ending, but it’s definitely one of the most rewarding non-paying jobs you could ever have.”
When Rachel picked up Jeremy the squirrel, she had no idea of the relationship that would unfold between them. Even after helping him recover from his injury and releasing him into the wild, he never totally left her side. He built a nest only a couple doors down so he could regularly visit her.
If not for Rachel, he might not have had the chance to recover and live a full, healthy life. While wildlife rehabbers don’t get paid, the satisfaction of helping an animal in need is priceless.