“Kindness is the beginning of cruelty.”
I have received yet another copy of the story of “Finnegan the Squirrel” in my email today. Some good-hearted soul thought that because of my personal interest in and work with squirrels I would find the “feel good” spin placed on it heartwarming.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In all honesty, I’m sick of seeing this blatant misrepresentation of wildlife rehabilitation; its “everyone get along” message is nothing more than just another excuse for bad human behavior.
The purpose of wildlife rehabilitation is to care for – most often to raise – a wild animal so that it is able to be returned to its natural environment with as many of its normal instincts as intact as possible so as to help assure its survival. That is the reason most species are raised with conspecifics (other members of the same species) and provided very specific diets and age-appropriate environments. Those of us who do this work because we truly love animals take the time to learn about the natural history of the species who come into our care, and when all is said and done we also (and perhaps most importantly) learn to separate OUR needs from the needs of our charges, setting aside our egos in favor of doing what is best for the animals.
The story of Finnegan the squirrel is a classic, textbook example of how to do everything wrong when raising an orphaned baby squirrel. Now in all fairness, there have been many examples of acceptance between prey and predator species, not the least being the bond between prey orphaned wildlife and their human, predator species foster parent; just like humans, every animal is an individual and there are those who will not hesitate to care for a helpless infant not their own. When this occurs in the wild, I would be the last one to question it; indeed, I would raise my voice in praise at such grace.
But what happened to poor, innocent Finnegan is simply another case where one human’s ego and one dog’s overactive hormones were allowed to take precedence over the needs of a wild animal. No wildlife rehabilitator in their right mind deliberately allows or encourages interactions between their domestic animals and a wild animal. It is a foolhardy risk at best and most often a form of cruelty, for it does nothing but set the wild animal up for a shortened life due to a learned misplacement of instinctive trust. Those who are so confused they cannot be released will still inevitably mature and the sexual maturity of any wild animal is rarely as “easily managed” as that of our domestic dog and cat companions. This in turn leads to a life filled with nothing but suffering and frustration taken out on one’s jailer rarely bodes well for a captive (Montecore, the white tiger who attacked Roy Horn in Las Vegas in 2003, is a rare exception; the more common and immediate mandate for any wild animal in captivity who attacks a human is euthanasia).
Not only is it little lap dogs and a squirrel, I’ve seen photos of a Rottweiler nursing a fawn (and been proudly told – by a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator – about a pre-school child bottle-feeding a fawn in their very own living room) – these are things that both chill and grieve my heart. If you really and truly love animals, they should at least give you pause, too.
The next time you are tempted to “share the joy” of something like Finnegan the squirrel, please stop and think about the real story. And don’t encourage such bad behaviors and harmful ideas by forwarding it.