in memoriam: blacktip the squirrel

blacktip in better times

So Blacktip was kind of a pet even though he was a wild squirrel. I forget how we even started feeding the squirrels; it’s been so long. Pretty much as long as we’ve lived here, which is 6.5 years now. But we started leaving sunflower seeds out, probably for birds, and then the squirrels would come for them, and at some point, a few of the squirrels got brave and stopped running away when we approached the window. In the heat of our first Texas summer, we got a water bottle from the pet store, the kind you’d use for gerbils or guinea pigs or whatever, filled it and strapped it to one of the porch rails. They took to it immediately. We started to give them names to tell them apart. Longtail, Buster, Momma Squirrel. Some of them would stand at a distance while we threw a peanut out to them. Eventually one or two of them got brave enough to take a peanut from our hands. Blacktip was one of them.

His name came from the black fur on the tip of his tail. He was totally the alpha squirrel, king of the back porch. Once he figured out what a sweet deal he had going on, he was not gonna let anybody else in on it. Countless contenders were chased away. No one was allowed to share. We pretended we didn’t approve though it was funny to watch regardless.

Blacktip returned year after year and surprised us with his longevity. Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) live quite a while in the wild; females about 12 years, males around 8. We’ve lived here for over 6 years so he was probably quite the youngster when he started coming around. We didn’t realize they could live so long in the wild, given the hazards of city life. Blacktip, though, had a pretty cushy life and didn’t really need to venture too far from home to find food. There’s a huge canopy of live oak trees connecting several back yards around us; acorns are in no short supply here. And of course for those in the know, there was our back porch.

A couple years ago we noticed Blacktip losing weight and starting to look pretty scruffy. It was clear he had mange. Mathew looked up how to treat mange, and found that you can buy an anti-parasite medication online called Ivermectin. It comes in single doses for animals the size of a horse… so he got one dose and used very tiny amounts, spread onto a peanut so that Blacktip would get it onto his paws and have to lick it off. His recovery was swift and successful.

Early this spring I noticed a huge abcess on his left front paw, a big black mass about the size of his entire paw. I’m guessing maybe a claw was injured or he just cut his foot somehow and it became infected. I knew right away that it would be the end of him this time, that there was no way we could treat something like that.

He kept coming back to the porch regularly, though, looking for food and water and treats (a peanut was a special treat only; we mostly gave him sunflower seeds). As time went on the abcess got bigger and bigger, and soon his entire arm was swollen and he had started to walk not on his paw, but on the joint just above it. His movements were becoming markedly slower and more labored.

We tried trapping him so that we could put him out of him misery quickly, but our attempts were completely unsuccessful. We already knew he was a smart little nut rat, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. We bought a cheap animal trap at Harbor Freight Tools; he got in and out of it once without setting it off, and after that he never set foot in it again. We tried a couple other methods but none of them worked.

Last night when I saw Blacktip, he was trying to get his head up to use the water bottle but didn’t have the strength. I put a little dish of water down to make it easier for him; he ran away but made it back up and had a drink. Mathew threw him a peanut and it was a terrible effort for him to get it out of the shell and eat it. Tough to eat with only one paw; he had to sit and rest between attempts to work it open. Then he shuffled back to the water for another drink. It was pretty clear that he was not going to make it through the night. We left him alone; it seemed undignified to sit there and watch him expire. As I went up and down the stairs doing laundry, I would check out the window to see if he was still there; once I saw him lying on the mat where we set the food out, breathing heavily. Later Mathew said he wasn’t there anymore. We assumed he went back under the porch where he’d been living the last week or two — closer to food and water, plus he could no longer climb a tree to get to his drey anyway.

But when we checked this morning, he wasn’t there. I guess he wanted somewhere more private. And here I was ready to go to a veterinarian to see if they sold little coffins.

Rest in peace, little guy.

One thought on “in memoriam: blacktip the squirrel

  1. Bittersweet (although more sweet) story. I’m sorry for your loss, Rothko. It sounds like Blacktip was a special little fur-friend.

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