It’s funny how the smallest things can turn your entire life upside down. It doesn’t take much. Just a teeny baby chipmunk, lost, alone, and melt-your-heart cute.
I was writing on my front porch swing, my dog Zoey by my side, when a slight movement caught my eye. My fingers froze over the keyboard. My breath caught. Had a mouse just crept up the top step? It seemed like a bold move considering Zoey’s presence. She’s a friendly dog. Don’t get me wrong. But if you’re a rodent, and after our bird feeder, she’s one fierce guard dog.
Luckily, Zoey hadn’t noticed the critter, so I took a closer look and realized it was a baby chipmunk, my “ewww” turning into “awww”. It had all the markings of a chipmunk, the brown fur, white stripe, black nose… but in such miniature proportions that I couldn’t believe it was out of its burrow. Another surprise? It didn’t run away as I eased closer, Zoey now by my side. In fact, when we reached it, the poor thing collapsed flat on the step, legs and arms splayed.
Having worked on my hospital’s code team, I knew an emergency when I saw one. I hustled Zoey inside, grabbed some trail mix and water and stopped at the window overlooking the step. I was hoping an adult chipmunk would arrive and usher the little one safely back home. Where was its mother? A baby this little clearly could not fend for itself… After a couple of minutes, I decided it was go time and raced back to my patient. He leveraged himself upright and sniffed at the feast of pecan bits, craisins and sunflower seeds I placed before him. I held my breath, waiting, wondering if he was too young to eat solid food. I’d just about made up my mind to get a dropper and some milk when he grabbed the craisin (which I quickly learn was his favorite, second to freshly chopped strawberries) and began nibbling.
He was so stinking cute. No bigger than the length of my ring finger, the little guy plowed through two craisins and a pecan half in under a minute. Things were looking up. Was he thirsty? We’d had a cool summer, but the last few days had been up in the high eighties. I filled a saucer and placed a craisin on its rim to tempt him over. The trick worked, and I took my first easy breath when he splashed into the water then lowered his head for a couple of quick sips.
Finally, he was perking up and mobile, but still not budging from my side. I figured he must have been desperate for help to have braved getting so near. Usually the minute a chipmunk catches sight of me or Zoey, it’ll sprint for the nearest bolt hole or drain pipe. This little guy, though, didn’t seem to be old enough to have any natural fear, which, contrarily, made me VERY fearful for him. Luckily, he’d found me, but what if he’d gone next door where a couple of cats live? Yikes.
With one eye on him, I returned to my computer, messaged my Facebook friends with my dilemma and received lots of helpful feedback. Armed with their advice, I called my local animal control officer, who said she doesn’t go out on calls like this, my vet, and our local wildlife rehabilitation center who said once the chipmunks have their coloring, they release them into the wild—even this young. They also advised me to try not to domesticate it so it would get to live its wonderful life outdoors.
But, oh, how I wanted to make him my pet!!! The temptation was real, I tell you…
When it finished eating, the chipmunk edged back down the porch stairs and laid on my walkway, soaking up the sun, napping. Human babies sleep a lot and that seems to extend to chipmunks, too. He blissfully slept the afternoon away while Zoey and I watched and fretted. Animals really are amazing. Zoey lives to chase squirrels and chipmunks and the occasional rabbit that ventures on our property. Yet she instantly sensed this baby needed help, and she became very protective, sitting just feet away while it slept on, oblivious. As night fell, I began to panic. I couldn’t just leave the chipmunk out here. It’d get eaten for sure. I made a trail of craisins and nuts to the garage, tempted the chipmunk inside, then closed the automatic door, keeping him indoors with fresh water and food.
The next morning, I discovered my neighbor’s huge tom cat sitting in front of my closed garage door. Grrrrrr… those cats are the fiercest hunters on the block. How did it know I had a baby chipmunk in there? Crazy. Once Zoey chased off the cat, I opened the door and waited. And waited. And waited. My heart raced. Zoey whined. Had the chipmunk died? Then I heard a scratching noise and poked my head in to see it playing jungle gym on our tools. Phew! Minutes later the baby chipmunk emerged for the fresh fruit breakfast I’d prepared. And thus, our day began as it would for the next couple of weeks, the baby chipmunk sleeping in the garage at night, playing in my flower garden during the day, eating and drinking whatever I gave him.
Then one evening, before sunset, I heard rustling beneath my porch and saw him going in and out of the lattice work. It sounded like he was digging! Best of all, he’d been getting bigger and faster and stopped napping out in the open. His natural instincts were kicking in which was good for him, but a little sad for me and especially Zoey. She loved playing hide and seek with the chipmunk in the garden, or just generally watching over it. Now the chipmunk was starting to take cover, snoozing under leaves or even inside of foliage, and now, it appeared, beneath the porch. I tried to tempt it into the garage but this time, he wouldn’t come out. He’d made a home for himself, and I had to keep reminding myself that the lattice would keep the cats out and the chipmunk would be safe sleeping there.
Best of all, a few days ago, I saw a bigger chipmunk, not quite an adult, with the baby. They were under the bird feeder, eating the castoffs. As soon as the older one saw me, it bolted under my porch and the baby followed. I was a little teary to have lost my little friend, but happy that he’d found a new one more his size. I had no idea how much that baby chipmunk would occupy my heart and thoughts during those hectic couple of weeks of keeping him safe, but it was worth every moment. I’m a sucker for animals and can’t even bring myself to kill a spider—(I have a catch and release program involving an ingenious paper plate and Solo cup system—lol) God has given us a beautiful planet to shepherd, and I (along with trusty, Zoey) will always tend it for him in my own, small ways 😊
What's the craziest thing you've ever done for the love of an animal? I'd love to here! Share your experience in the comments section below and add your email address if you'd like to enter to win a print copy of UNDER AN ADIRONDACK SKY, HIS KIND OF COWGIRL or A COWBOY TO KEEP (your choice) Shipping to U.S. or C.A. addresses. I'll announce the reader here on Sunday, 8/10. Good luck and happy reading <3