For the Birds Radio Program: Chuckie and Betsy
Since squirrels spend as much time at Northland feeders as birds do, today’s For the Birds is about squirrels and the dogs that love them. 3:59
This is the second winter we’ve had our squirrel Chuckie. She was orphaned a year ago last Mother’s Day, and we raised her. I use the term “our” squirrel rather loosely, since Chuckie is actually her own squirrel. She lives somewhere outside, and we don’t have the foggiest idea where her nest tree is. She comes and goes as she pleases, and on very cold days she often doesn’t come at all. She apparently holes up in her nest for the duration. We have a perfect relationship, founded on mutual affection and respect, enjoying one another’s company but never overstaying our welcome or making unreasonable demands on our friendship.
Chuckie is very lean—a true mesomorph—during summer, but during one phenomenal week late this fall, she transformed herself into an endomorph. She has a wonderfully bushy tail and beautiful fur. A year ago she developed ringworm, but since I can handle her as much as I want, I administered medication three times a day and cured it. We lost two squirrels with ringworm last winter. The bald patches aren’t a health threat except indirectly, making a sufferer lose too much body heat, and they probably died of hypothermia in their sleep.
Our dining room feeder is built into the outside window sill, and whenever Chuckie comes, she peeks into the window expectantly, holding her paws down and her ears up. If someone notices her, we crank open the window and she hops right to us. If Betsy the wonder puppy is outside, Chuckie knows the coast is clear in the house and she scurries right in. Otherwise, she’s suspicious. Betsy, who’s a five-month-old springer spaniel, is technically not allowed to chase squirrels indoors, but Chuckie doesn’t trust her enthusiasm. Bunter the wonder dog, our eleven-year-old golden retriever, is calm and sedate, and Chuckie trusts her entirely, evn walking over her when Bunter sprawls out in the middle of the floor.
Anyway, if Betsy isn’t around, Chuckie comes right in and checks out the food situation. Our neighborhood doesn’t have oaks, but our neighbor Mary saves us acorns from a cabin retreat run by her church, and my friend Karen saves acorns from her yard. During pig-out season, Chuckie goes through bucketfuls. Now that she’s eaten or hidden them all, she’s stuck with peanuts until I buy her some walnuts. She doesn’t like much people food–she picks out and eats walnut pieces and dates from Fruit ‘n Fiber cereal, but usually avoids the kitchen. One time she did open a box of angel food cake mix to make an interesting mess. Normally she just checks out the peanut bucket and then heads for the living room. She has peanuts and acorns stashed away in crevices in our furniture and drapery folds, and a whole storehouse of treats in the kids’ Lego drawer. She makes a racket rummaging through the plastic pieces to find them.
When Betsy comes in, Chuckie runs along the top of the draperies, leaps from chair to sofa to human head, and Betsy just can’t figure it out. Springers are quick, but squirrels leave them in the dust, and Betsy can’t even keep her eyes on Chuckie when she’s moving at top speed. To Betsy, Chuckie’s just plain magic, disappearing from one spot to miraculously appear someplace else. The only other things that magic are the Blue Jays that come to our feeder, and so Betsy spends much of her time outside studying squirrels and birds. Yep. A squirrel is quite an educational companion. No puppy should be without one.