NORTHAMPTON — “Champ” the squirrel didn’t go down without a fight.
Estimated at several weeks old, Champ was found Sunday by a friend of Jordana Starr, 32, who co-owns Beerology on Pleasant Street with her husband. The critter was in the mouth of the friend’s dog, Starr said, and suffered a laceration that they initially believed had left it crippled.
Knowing that Starr aided the rehabilitation of several wild rabbits in the past, the friend contacted her for help finding a veterinarian for Champ. Starr willingly took him in, receiving Champ wrapped in a blanket and tucked into an empty diaper box.
“I had him (at Beerology), keeping him warm. Sometimes he’d wake up and I’d play with him a little bit,” she said.
Because of the holiday weekend, Starr was unable to immediately secure a veterinarian or wildlife expert to care for Champ. So she gave him Pedialyte and cared for him until Tuesday, when she was able to take him to the South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic.
In the interim, Starr said she wore gloves when she played with him, and kept him as comfortable as possible, cleaning his wound and applying antibiotics. He got his name, Starr said, because he sucked down the Pedialyte “like a champ.”
“He grabbed my hand whenever I reached in to check in on him,” she said.
Paula Ruelle, who is a licensed rehabilitator, walked Starr through the process over the phone: Keep Champ warm with a heating pad, give him Pedialyte and try and get to an expert as quickly as possible. This can be difficult, Ruelle warned, as many of those in her field aid animals as a side job. Given the holiday weekend and space constraints, it can be hard to find a bed for an injured animal, she said.
“Most of us are working jobs, raising a family and most of us are doing this as a hobby,” she said. “We don’t charge and our flow of animals has to be suitable to what we can acceptably do. I can take in up to 25 squirrels. Easter weekend was a tough one; a lot of people were busy.”
Additionally, The Wildlife Center of Virginia recommends wearing sturdy gloves when handling injured animals.
Wednesday morning, Starr called the South Deerfield facility to get an update on the little guy. That’s when she got the bad news: not only had Champ been injured, he suffered from a genetic disorder that left him paralyzed in the rear. He was euthanized.
Starr said she knew the odds were stacked against Champ. A realist when it comes to rehabilitating wild animals, she expected the news might not be good. It comes with the territory, said Starr.
She was happy that at least he went peacefully.
“He would have otherwise had a really crappy ending to life,” Starr said. “He got to cuddle. He was warm. He was fed. … He didn’t suffer.”
Derrick Perkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.