Even the tiniest, most nondescript creature deserves a life. No matter what effort it takes to foster their existence.
My sister, Kate, was seven and walking home from the neighborhood park when she noticed a fleshy, marble-like “thing.” It couldn’t even be described as any sort of being, but being seven, she touched it. It was warm. It was something that was alive.
She picked up a large, dried oak leaf, placed the mystery being on it, and walked home with it.
Being the kind of animal rescue family that we are, we could not turn away, but we had no idea what we had on our hands.
Clearly, it was some sort of baby that had been excised from his or her family. We couldn’t have that.
Was it a rat? A possum? Some other unknown animal? We were clueless.
Within minutes, my mom turned into Mrs. McGyver and created a small, cozy incubator-style new home for our new family member. I even gave up my Mon Chee Chee so the little fellah could have something to snuggle next to on his heating pad in his little basket. We had no idea about chances of survival, but the vet was the next call. And the next purchase was baby formula with instructions about how to water it down appropriately for what was basically an embryo.
We were all determined to give this life a chance.
First, was the naming. After much deliberation, my sister and I decided on Huey. (Yes, we named this little creature after one of Donald Duck’s nephews. What can I say?)
To my mom’s credit, she bottle-fed Huey almost every hour. And that continued throughout the night. Luckily, my dad is a deep sleeper.
I will not deny that we all started having nightmares about what we were raising. He was all flesh, eyes closed, and no clear body shape yet. It was a running mystery in our happy home. I was just praying it was not a rat.
After a few weeks, it became apparent. Drum roll, please! It was a squirrel.
Mystery solved, but ongoing care continued as tiny Huey started to grow. His fur started to come in and soon the tail.
We had a pet squirrel! A kid’s dream!
There was one upcoming wrinkle: Our two-week family trip to Virginia Beach. Can you call a squirrel sitter? No. The answer was obvious. Huey was on his way to the beach. On a plane.
Since it was pre 9/11, getting him through security was a breeze. He was snuggled into his little bed inside my mom’s purse. He squeaked here and there, but let’s just say that a well-timed cough or sneeze by anyone in our family of five covered the little guy’s baby voice.
Just to create the most ideal experience as possible for my mom and Huey, they flew first class. But my mom knew that a feeding was in order during flight. My mom was terrified about what kind of looks she would most certainly get.
She was seated next to a buttoned-up businessman. Uh oh.
Despite her fears, Mom warmed up a tiny bottle in the bathroom. She returned to her seat, covertly took Huey out of his bed and began to feed him. I’m not sure if Huey looked out at the clouds, but I would like to think so.
So, the moment came as Huey sucked down his formula. The businessman glanced over and did a double take. My mom noticed and just held her breath.
The gentleman got a sly smile on his face and said, “Is this his first flight?”
They both laughed and my mom imparted some of the story. Thank goodness for the kindness and understanding of strangers.
Huey was surrounded by love and play with my entire Hartmann side of the family. It was his most favorite, and only, beach vacation ever.
After we got home and Huey was clearly growing like a good weed, it was determined that Huey was, in fact, a girl! But we did not re-name her. Not an option. She was Huey to us. She was our baby, but we knew at some point we would have to let her go.
I will not deny that many tears were shed just over the thought of not having her with us.
My mom called a specialist in domesticated wildlife. After an examination out in the Texas countryside at an animal refuge, it was determined that she was too domesticated to be released into the wilds of our neighborhood. Her haunches had not developed enough, so her jumping skills would not be up to snuff.
The refuge was sure to be her new home. She would be well cared for. That was very clear after meeting the staff and seeing the huge enclosed outdoor refuge. She had many friends to meet and many nuts to bury.
It was time. She was a little girl squirrel, and she needed to be safely outside.
We spent our last days with her, saying our goodbyes and promising to stay in touch. Which we did.
She moved to the refuge, and they took her in as if she were their own. We felt satisfied but also happily heartbroken.
She thrived there.
And all because life is precious. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
The next time you see someone or something that needs a little helping hand, think about Huey Hartmann.
Everyone can make a difference. It’s what makes the world go ‘round.
Rogers Hartmann is a longtime literary manager and now producer, writer, and activist. She has appeared on OPRAH with Michael J. Fox, The Today Show with Meredith Vieira, TED, and countless other network programs. She speaks to kids and adults alike across around the world about her journey to wellness while battling Dystonia. You can also find Rogers on Twitter.
*Photo by audreyjm529.