I was lucky enough to speak with Squirrel Rehabber Cindi. Some may know her as Pip’s mom (@pipthebabysquirrel on IG). She has given herself the title of the “unintentional rehabber.” She is a wealth of knowledge and is fortunate to have a seasoned rehabber as a mentor.
Cindi is a very busy lady. If you were to ever visit any of her social media accounts, that fact is blatantly obvious. She delivers lots of laughs and entertainment from her squirrel photos and videos, but let’s face it, rehabbing is a tough job not only mentally, physically, financially but also emotionally.
Cindi will be the first to tell you that squirrels don’t make good pets. Because they are so cute, people want to hold them and love them and they get attached. Ultimately, squirrels want to be wild. However, there are circumstances when squirrels can’t be released in the wild. Those that can’t be released are called non-releasable (NR).
So let’s talk with Cindi and find out how she got started as a squirrel rehabber, lessons she has learned, and what a typical day looks like for her.
How Did You Get Started Rehabbing Squirrels?
Cindi: Completely on accident. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t care to do it. I never thought about squirrels much. I like squirrels, I like all animals, and I will save all animals. However, I was never a squirrel fan. When my son was 16, he is 21 now, wanted a baby squirrel. He was always outside looking for fallen baby squirrels because he wanted to rescue a baby squirrel.
Someone found out that he wanted a baby squirrel, and this person had a baby squirrel named Pip. He was about ready to be released….so they thought. Pip was only 6 weeks old at the time, and this person was basing it on “kitten-terms,” meaning when a kitten could be away from its mother.
So, when my son brought home Pip, I asked him what he needed. I didn’t know squirrels. My son said no, he didn’t think he needed anything. He was a squirrel; I was just thinking his food needed to be in teeny-tiny bits. I didn’t know that he needed to be on formula for weeks after that. I’ve made up for it now; I’ve learned a lot since Pip.
KCS: As many of us know, Pip lives a charmed life!
Cindi: The plan was to release Pip, and I was really attached to him. I was afraid to release him because I thought he would be too friendly. I didn’t know anything about squirrels, and I got scared because I was afraid of the cats and dogs getting him. So, we kept Pip.
After a couple of years, everyone started contacting me. Oh, we found a baby squirrel. I was confident I could save a baby squirrel because I always rescue animals. So, it just kind of went from there, and I learned a lot.
Hard Lessons Learning As a Squirrel Rehabber
KCS: Cindi learned a few hard lessons when starting out.
Cindi: I know now that you must keep the squirrels in Rubbermaid containers with locking lids. My husband drills the holes in the top, and the dogs and cats can’t get into those locking lid containers.
I call myself the “Unintentional Rehabber.” People don’t know where else to take them, and we don’t have squirrel rehabbers close by, and most are an hour or more away. Not many people will find a baby squirrel and get in their car and drive an hour away.
Most people are not going to do that.
A lady who had Winslow the squirrel, who has since been released to the wild, told me that she would throw baby squirrels in the dumpster whenever she found one.
There aren’t many places nearby to take squirrels, so I am very appreciative when people contact me wanting to save them.
I don’t think people realize that I end up keeping them for the next four months.
99% of the time, people will bring the injured or orphaned squirrel to me, but sometimes I will travel to pick them up.
Are You Known as the Squirrel Lady
KCS: So, you are known in your area as the “go-to” for the squirrels.
Cindi: I can only take so many, so I limit it to people who know me or know someone personally to me.
I was never a rehabber, but I’ve become a squirrel rehabber. I’ve learned, and I work closely with a very experienced rehabber, Karon (@Karon_Kritters on IG). I feel like she is always right here with me. I can call her, and she can “doctor-me” through it. I can contact her at any time with anything.
I also have a great vet that sees my squirrels.
Every time I say I am not going to take any more, I just can’t say no. I said no four times to Turkey, the squirrel, and his sisters before taking them in. Before me, Turkey and his sisters had three different rehab mommies before came to me.
And then I wasn’t going to take in any more, and then there was Grace. One of Cindi’s friends called and had Grace and said she didn’t know what to do with her. My husband said, let’s go meet her and pick her up. I wasn’t going to do anymore, and now Grace is a permanent resident.
KCS: For those of you who aren’t familiar with Grace, she is an NR (non-releasable squirrel) that had a head trauma injury, and she would never be able to survive in the wild.
It’s Not Easy Keeping a Squirrel
Cindi: It is not easy to keep a pet squirrel, and I know many people want a “pet squirrel.” Squirrels are a pain in the butt for my family, but not a pain in the butt for me.
We can’t go on vacation. You can’t leave babies, and they need to be fed a specific way. It isn’t possible for someone just to come over and take care of them. They need to be fed frequently, and they pee all over their food. Like Grace, at least she pees on the floor.
She doesn’t pee all over the place as the babies do.
I have disinfectant wipes all over the place so I can clean up after Grace. Pip has a specific spot he uses. When he was a baby, he was litter box trained. But when he got free range of the room, he decided he would pee everywhere and claim it all for himself.
Pip isn’t so bad now that he is an adult. But oh my gosh, when he was younger, he went to the bathroom everywhere, no matter how many litter boxes I had all over the room. When I have a bunch of babies in the room, it is just craziness.
KCS: It sounds like squirrels aren’t as dreamy as they seem based on Instagram posts. As a side note, Cindi and I talked via Zoom. Pip, one of two resident squirrels, sped around the room, continually attempting to find where my voice was coming from. Cindi mentioned that Pip is territorial of other people being in the rehab room. I don’t ever think he figured it out.
My Husband Prefers Dogs
Cindi: Pip wasn’t socialized with others besides me when he was younger because I didn’t know much about squirrels at the time. Also, their teeth are very sharp, and I was afraid of getting nipped. My husband prefers not to have an animal that just jumps on you; he would rather have a dog where he can tell them to get down. A squirrel, you can’t push a squirrel off you.
Now, I try to socialize my babies with everyone. All my babies and wilds that live outside are friendly. I will feed the babies in the middle of the kitchen with everyone walking through. Often, rehabbers are so overwhelmed that they don’t have time to socialize with the squirrels.
I have a friend in New York that has so many babies, and she has a feeding system down to a science.
But when you have so many to feed, it is just all about survival. A cycle of feeding and potty. Rinse and repeat.
I don’t like to have too many babies at once because I love to give them attention.
KCS: I mentioned her new baby Ricky, who is off the charts regarding cuteness.
Cindi: All the babies are cute; even the ugly ones are cute.
KCS: How true, every squirrel is precious.
Why is Your Squirrel Wearing a Sock
KCS: I mentioned baby Elfie who Cindi had around Christmas 2020. Elfie made an Instagram appearance in an outfit she made from an infant’s sock. Elfie sure made a big hit on social media, but many people didn’t know the outfit wasn’t for entertainment. The sock served a purpose to keep Elfie from harm. The sock outfit sure made for a great Instagram photo, but Cindi said the babies can be vicious when nursing.
Elfie wore a sock because the babies would mistake his genitalia for mom’s nipple and try to nurse on it. To protect Elfie, she had to cover him up so the babies couldn’t get to his “nipple.”
Yikes! More on that later!
When Do You Release the Squirrels
KCS: I know it is usually a case-by-case basis, but at what age do you prepare a squirrel to be released?
Cindi: I base it upon when the squirrels wean themselves, meaning when they quit wanting milk. This is usually around 10-14 weeks. When I happen to be outside and feeding babies, I still have a few wilds that will come up to me and want milk.
So, when they stop wanting milk, they are usually ready to go out into the “soft-release” cage.
For example, Ricky has stopped wanting milk, but his brother Tucker is still taking formula. Ricky won’t be released until Tucker is ready.
KCS: When you place them in the “soft-release” cage, how long do they stay there?
Cindi: Usually 2 to 3 weeks. It also depends on how many there are in the cage and how crazy they get in there. You can tell when they are ready to be released because they will start to pace back and forth instead of playing in the cage and having fun.
Some squirrels will hide for the first week. They are so scared because they are outside, and the new smells and sounds of being outdoors can be frightening. Then other squirrels could care or less.
It usually takes about a week before they get comfortable playing. If they get bored of playing and begin pacing, they are more than likely ready to be released.
Typical Day As a Squirrel Rehabber
KCS: What does your typical day look like as a rehabber?
Cindi: My day never ends when you are doing middle-of-the-night feedings. If I have “pinkies” (extremely young squirrels that haven’t grown hair yet), they need to be fed every 2-3 hours. My morning usually starts at 6-7 am, but it really hasn’t stopped from the night before.
When the babies are a little older, they only need to be fed every 4-5 hours, so then I have it made.
Right now, I have six babies, and to complete one feeding for all of them takes about an hour. Then you must clean all the syringes, nipples, and then make more formula. This is really a full-time job.
Are You Like Cinderella: Still Cleaning the Castle
Just cleaning the rehab room is a whole new game when you have the babies. Not only do I have to clean the room, but I also have all the cages to clean. I must do a deep clean of the room every two days. The babies make a colossal mess and pee all over the place.
What? You Have to Help Them Go to the Bathroom
KCS: For those who don’t know, rehabbers must assist the babies to go to the bathroom (AKA pee and poop). I asked Cindi how long she must help them along in that process? Young babies love to suck. Sometimes baby squirrels will suck on each other’s ears or other parts of their bodies, and when that body part is another baby’s penis, the penis can become red and swollen – sometimes, in extreme cases developing a scab and creating a situation where the sucked-on baby can no longer urinate.
Cindi: The rule of thumb is when the babies open their eyes, they can usually go to the bathroom on their own. I typically continue to help them for 2-3 weeks after that. Just to make sure everything is flowing well, especially since they are starting to transition to solid foods. I don’t want them to get constipated. There is really a transition period to getting their bodies regular when they start eating solid foods.
You battle with some and must give warm baths to clean them off, and some you must work their bellies (massage the stomach) to help them poop.
Some formulas don’t agree with the babies’ stomachs. There can be a lot of bloating, and you don’t always know if there will be a problem. You just must feel it, and if there are digestive issues, you must switch up the formula.
KCS: So, you don’t have a strict regimen of what we do and how we do it. You wait to see if there are signs or symptoms of digestive problems and adjust.
Being A Squirrel Rehabber Requires A Huge Commitment
Cindi: People don’t realize the commitment we make as squirrel rehabbers when we take in a squirrel. They don’t think about all the time invested, and it isn’t as easy as just feeding them.
I’ve had more than one baby where it takes one hour just to feed a couple of syringes of formula because you must give it one drop at a time.
A person who chooses to be a squirrel rehabber may not think about all that before they get into it. I didn’t even realize what I was in for until I was in the thick of it. Then when I was in the midst of it, I realized I knew what I was doing, and now I can’t say no.
Now, I’ve “got this,” have the knack for it, and got the hang of it. I am lucky enough to have the time and the space.
KCS: You are right; this is a full-time plus job.
Cindi: Just the fun part is a full-time job. Cleaning the room is an easy two hours, and there is no way around that. When I have a lot of babies, the amount of laundry is crazy.
It is very time-consuming.
Is Being a Squirrel Rehabber Expensive
Then people don’t always realize the time and expense needed for medical care.
KCS: Do you ever ask the people who drop off squirrels to you to donate to their care?
Cindi: No, I never ask. I guess some people don’t think about it. Some people will hand me $20, $50 to make a donation for something I need. Some people will ask is there anything they can do.
However, this usually only happens 10% of the time.
I had a situation last week where I picked up a squirrel in a not-so-great area of town. The girl was sweet as could be, but she had no transportation, and I couldn’t ask her for money. Unfortunately, the squirrel had to be euthanized because she had a broken back.
I had hoped the squirrel could be saved in some way.
Do You Get a Squirrel Rehabber Discount at the Vet
KCS: What is your response when people say to you, “well, you take so many squirrels to the vet, and they should give a squirrel rehabber a discount?”
Cindi: Well, the vet still must work, and they fit me into their schedule. Who knows, maybe the vet says, oh, she is bringing another squirrel.
No, really, they do like seeing the squirrels, but they can be a challenge.
Part 2 will be continued in the November 2021 Squirrel Tails Magazine.