With great guilt as I watched their big brown eyes droop, I left the dogs at home tonight when I ventured out for my nightly walk.

My guilt was without basis because they had a full day of romping outside in the late summer sunshine that we treasure here in Central New York.  Still, Sawyer and Grover were not happy that I left without them, and both moaned their displeasure when I patted them before leaving.  For whatever reason, tonight I felt that I needed to take a walk by myself.

Photo Credit: Kristine Bellino
Photo Credit: Kristine Bellino

Although I always bring my telephone with me for safety, and in case my children need to get in touch with me, my daily constitutional is the only time when I truly unplug - no cords, wires, cameras, Internet, television, radio, music, and certainly no news.  It is my time to take deep breaths that do not sound like sighs to my coworkers, my time to commune with nature in a way that does not involve me plucking some of it out from between my tomato plants and grape vines.

Some days I need a bigger dose of nature than others, and tonight was clearly one of those nights.

It was a long day fraught with many irritations, and I was looking forward to putting a couple of miles between me and this particular Wednesday.

The sidewalks are clear of leaves this time of year and almost all of my neighbours keep their sidewalks swept.  So I slowed down the pace of my walk when, only about one-tenth of a mile in, I saw something that looked like either a crumpled brown leaf or a small pile of poo quivering in the the middle of the concrete.

When I got close I saw that the brown crumple was a chipmunk.  I will say that it was a "baby" chipmunk because I have a tendency to call everything a "baby" when it is in distress, and this little guy was clearly in distress.  It shivered, the little mahogany-coloured mass exposed on the hard, white sidewalk to whatever creatures could prey on it, and I immediately jumped into Mama Mode.  "Mama Mode," as my children will tell you, is "The Protector of All Living Things Mode," the mode that I would have to be in if ever I had to try to lift a car or do something that I could not do in normal mode.

Perhaps more Snow White than Transformer in this version of Mama Mode, my brain started scouring its internal catalogues of animal information.  While I was trying to figure out whether he needed help or was going to bite me, I saw some callous, winged insect - one apparently not in my databanks - attempting to bite into the fur of the chipmunk.  I gently brushed it off but it flew right back, and repeatedly did so after another few brushings.  Whatever was wrong with the chipmunk rendered it incapable of scurrying away even when I touched it and its attacker.  Clearly this vicious invader (doing, I might add, only what Nature has wired him to do) did not know or care about Mama Mode.

A man across the street and two little boys saw me leaning over what (I hope) they thought was a leaf.  I crossed the street and asked if they had a rag or a paper towel with which I could scoop up the injured chipmunk. The nice man obliged with a rag that he brought out from his truck.  (I cannot blame him for not going inside to get a fresh towel and risk leaving his two children outside with the crazy lady trying to save the rodent.)

The older of the two boys followed me and asked what I was planning to do with the chipmunk.  I responded honestly, "I have no idea."  I told him that I have a friend who is a wildlife rehabilitator who works with small mammals (unfortunately she is in Florida) and would reach out to her.  "But," I said, "even if there is nothing that we can do I am going to make certain that he does not die shivering on the sidewalk with a fly eating him."  "That's good,"  he said.

Photo Credit: Kristine Bellino
Photo Credit: Kristine Bellino

And before you judge me, please note that I have already acknowledged the fact that few people care about chipmunks.  There are no "save the chipmunks" campaigns and, truthfully, most people would like to take out the chipmunks that do live amongst us.

Why should I care about a chipmunk?

It is a life thing.  Life.  Life is a thing that should never be, I believe, taken for granted.  And so, despite the fact that, as I was walking up the driveway with the rag o' rodent and one member of my family said, "You should have just left it," I truly think that it was best that I did not leave it.

I remember walking home from school as a child passing a kumquat tree, from which we picked the most wonderfully sour fruit on our way home every day, when I saw a grasshopper struggling as its eyes were being eaten by ants.  It was still alive and the image burned itself in my memory.  I decided that day that death, when unavoidable, should be quick, even for the slightest of creatures.

Because I have been through this saving animals thing before with other creatures (birds mostly), I know that it is best to call a wildlife rehabilitation specialist (who works long hours basically for free) as opposed to a veterinarian in cases such as this.  As I cuddled the chipmunk, I sent my Florida friend a Facebook message asking for advice.  Her Facebook page is full of pictures of all of the animals that she has rescued.  One of her latest success stories is a baby squirrel whom she has named "Tony."  I was hoping that the chipmunk could benefit from some of Tony's success.

I also checked online to see, if by some miracle, there was a listing for wildlife rehabilitators in Utica, New York. Well, there have apparently been a lot of people looking for information on how to take care of baby chipmunks because there are comprehensive websites organized by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory.

I contacted one of them and the telephone was answered on the second ring.  After asking me a few questions about Chip (obvious, I know, but it just happened) she told me what to do and informed me that, despite my efforts, he (we are assuming it is a "he" but I have not and do not plan to check right now) probably will not make it through the night.  It is common, she says, for other animals, cats especially, to find rodents, play with them for a while and then leave them in some half-conscious and very injured state to die.  I accepted this but, as I told her, at least want him to be able to curl up in a ball and pass quietly if indeed that is to be.

He is in a shoebox now, with a clean towel and a hot water bottle at his side to keep him warm.  We said a little prayer that he makes it through the night or, if he does not, that he goes peacefully.

The most important thing is for him to rest and not have some pokey human being jarring him awake so I have kept the opening of the box to a minimum.  When I last checked on him he had opened his eyes and jumped out from under the towel, a sign perhaps that he has at least a chance.  I covered him back up and closed his box.

I hope that he wakes with a vengeance in the morning and tries to bite me.  Yes, she asked and yes, I answered in the affirmative when the rehabilitator asked if, by any chance, I have had a rabies shot.  A previous encounter with several hundred bats years ago mandated the series of shots for which I have since become grateful.

A full update will be provided in the morning.

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