For a few precious hours one Friday evening, I had a pet chipmunk.
When I was leaving work that day, I noticed a drenched chipmunk on the sidewalk. I assumed, quite frankly, that the animal was dead, perhaps having drowned in the heavy rains from that afternoon. I nudged the body gently with my foot. To my surprise, it tried to run away.
I crouched next to him, dragging out the minutes until I left. I had no way to help him that I could think of; my car was a couple of parking garages away and I was sure if I left him unattended he would be gone before I returned.
Luckily, a couple of strangers who work in my building happened across the situation. Seeing that he was doing so poorly, and moving as if injured, they offered sympathy. One was close enough to her car to run for a box. Working together, we managed to contain the suffering creature.
The person who had provided the box explained that she didn’t know what to do next because she’d have to go 45 minutes out of her way to take him to a wildlife rescue center. I thought of all of the supplies I keep in my basement for the pet rodents I have had. (I’m currently down to only seven hamsters.) I said, “I have rodent food, I can probably just take him home.”
I’m sure the car ride was terrifying, but I tried to make it better by offering some paper towels I keep in the car for comfort. I had my partner meet me outside with one of our rodent carriers so I could take the chipmunk past the dog without incident.
Grabbing one of my many empty tanks, I prepared some bedding and transferred the poor thing. I offered more paper towels and a rodent block (these ones are marketed as good for squirrels, so I was sure it would not hurt him).
Using a hair dryer, I did my best to help him regain some warmth and dryness.
I have wanted a pet chipmunk before, so the idea of possibly rescuing this one filled me with excitement. I did everything I could think to do, including providing some variety of food.
The hair dryer treatments seemed to be appreciated, and he regained much of his fluffiness. My partner even gave some parasite treatment, left over from when our rodent friends faced a mite infestation.
Not knowing what else to do besides wait, I left him alone and went to feed the cats. I was thinking of the name “Stripes” because I’m really good at names, but my partner beat me to the punch and picked Alcyone, the Merciless.
Unfortunately, this was a short lived pet. I may have seen him die that evening; I am not even approximately sure of the time of death. In any case, when I went to bed, he was laying still as death, but I was hoping I would awake to signs of life.
I had no such luck. He was stiff when I next checked on him. We discarded the corpse with as much ceremony as we usually give to dead rodents (which is to say, almost none; after several dozen pet rodents, death is just a part of our normal experience).
As you can imagine, this was a difficult experience for my emotions. I thought for sure I would be saving this little animal and maybe even have a new pet for a few days at least. Instead, all I could do was provide some comfort in those final hours. It is a taste of the work I wish I were doing as my full time job, and it is, as expected, extremely bittersweet.
I have no regrets and would jump on another chance like this just as I did on Friday. I’ll never know if there was more I could have done for this particular case, but I know I did the best I could think to do at the time, and I’m sure he appreciated that warmth and comfort, rather than dying drenched on a sidewalk. It is very rare to find a rodent so injured and be able to do anything but provide comfort; as prey animals, they hide any sign of weakness as much as possible for as long as possible, so it is frequent to only notice an injury or illness until it is too late to intervene. I will probably always wonder if we should have tried to force feed him with some electrolytes or something, but the truth is that I didn’t think of that option until it was too late.