24: Joey’s Entourage

24: Joey’s Entourage

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Joey’s Entourage

Cats are endless opportunities for revelation.

~Leslie Kapp

“Mack, stop it!” I yelled across the yard. My dog had treed yet another critter and was dancing at the base of the tall maple, his tongue lolling and his eyes bright with excitement. When he didn’t stop barking and refused to abandon his chase, I sighed and walked towards him.

Grabbing his collar, I looked up to see a baby black squirrel clinging to a branch, its tiny body shivering in fear.

I clucked to it soothingly and dragged my dog away. To my surprise, the little fellow ran down the tree and followed us.

“Shoo!” I told it, trying to keep my dog from tearing my arm out of its socket in his rabid excitement to chase the poor thing again. “Go on, now. Go find your mother,” I urged.

I finally managed to chase the squirrel away and get Mack into the house. A half hour later, thinking the coast was clear, I let him back out into the yard. He immediately charged over to the same spot, repeating the same capture.

“Go away,” I ordered the fluffy-tailed rodent as he hopped behind us. He finally disappeared onto the neighbor’s property.

I forgot about the incident until I heard another dog barking and my neighbor bellowing. I went outside to investigate and she waved me over. Sure enough, she was clutching her own dog as her kids tried to chase the squirrel off their property so it wouldn’t be hurt.

I ran over to help, shocked when the tiny creature scampered right over to me. It crawled up my leg and torso to nestle against my neck, emitting frightened grunts as it tried to hide in my hair.

I didn’t know whether to scream or tear it off my head. Visions of it ripping my face off and giving me rabies ran through my mind, but the squirrel calmed immediately against the warmth of my body and started to nuzzle for food.

I sighed. Evidently it was orphaned and decided I was its substitute mommy. I was accustomed to rescuing wild baby birds and nursing them until they could be returned to the wild. In fact, I’d pried several out of the jaws of my cats, much to their annoyance, and kept a cage handy just for such an occasion. I’d never rescued a squirrel, however.

I asked my neighbor for an old towel and gently pried the creature from my head. I brought it into the house, bathed it, dried it, and then dropped it into the cage lined with paper. I quickly showered myself in case there was any insect transfer.

I stepped out of the bathroom to find all three of my cats observing our new tenant. Two were licking their lips while a third was draped over the top of the cage, one paw clawing through the bars. I chased them all away and opened my laptop to figure out what to feed the little guy.

He took to the formula I found on the Internet very well, and was eagerly lapping it from a syringe an hour later when my family returned from work. My husband sighed in amused resignation when he saw him. We immediately named him Joey after he crawled into my son’s hoodie kangaroo pocket to settle down for a nap.

Over the next two weeks, we tried to handle him as seldom as possible, not wanting him to become too accustomed to humans. He’d need to be released into the wild eventually, but he was still so small. I wanted to give him a fighting chance. I slowly introduced him to the food he would find in his own environment and he adapted well.

The cats, however, seemed to think I was fattening a luscious feast especially for them. They watched patiently, observing him through the bars of his confine. They would stare for hours at a time, almost unblinking, constantly glancing my way as if to ask, “Can we devour him yet? Is he ready?”

Joey took their attention in stride. He ran around his cage, batted at random paws that slipped through the bars. He sniffed at noses flattened against the latch that I took pains to shut with a tie wrap in case my felines managed to figure out how to open the hook. He even stood on his hind feet to swat at the underbelly of whichever cat happened to be splayed across the top of his enclosure.

After three weeks, my research told me Joey was ready to be free again. I couldn’t guarantee his survival of course, but I could guarantee that if he stayed with us much longer he would become too tame to let loose.

I ensured the cats and dog were locked in the house. Carrying Joey, I walked deep into the woods behind our house. I gently placed him on the ground and watched him scurry off to climb up the nearest tree.

“Good luck, little fellow,” I told him softly as I watched him disappear into the thick foliage.

I managed to walk about two hundred yards when I heard a rustling behind me. Sure enough, Joey was following me. He ran up my body to my shoulder. I attempted several more releases, but it was no use. He followed me every time. When I got back home, my husband chuckled as I placed the squirrel back in his cage.

Two days later, I tried again. This time I was successful. Joey did not follow me home. I could only hope he’d be okay.

Later that afternoon, as I sat on my patio, I saw my three cats coming toward the house. They were behaving oddly, taking several steps, stopping, then looking behind them. As they advanced closer, I saw a familiar black ball of fur following them. It was Joey. They were leading him home!

I was astounded. They could have easily killed him, yet they flanked around him like sentry, protecting him from harm. Together, the four of them climbed the stairs and sat at my feet waiting to be let in while I stared slack-jawed and speechless.

Tempted as I was to keep that persistently returning rodent, I knew it was in his best interests to be wild and self-reliant. Some squirrels can be domesticated, but I felt Joey would be happier in his natural habitat.

The next day, my husband drove him several miles away from our home and released him. We never saw him again. I placed the cage on the back porch to wash and disinfect it for a future inhabitant. Later that afternoon, I stepped out to see all three cats circling it and sniffing, as if trying to catch a scent of Joey’s trail. They seemed confused, almost sad, when they couldn’t find one.

Those cats have since done what most cats do — hunted and killed small prey — sometimes “gifting” me with the remains. Each time, I shudder and dispose of their trophies, and each time I remember how, completely out of character, they protected and guided a little black orphaned squirrel to the safety of what they believed was his home.

~Marya Morin

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