May 22, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Like the famous native Mississippian of "Margaritaville" fame who inspired his name, "Jimmy Buffett," the curious squirrel, is feeling carefree. He''s got a doting stepmom and stepdad, a comfortable place to lay his head, and all the grapes and nuts his tiny tummy can hold.
And it''s not as though he lacks for company. The small creature''s extended family includes 13 lyrical parakeets, 12 finches and a chatty cockatiel named "Peaches Delchamps." His adoptive family''s pound pups -- a terrier mix named "JD" and "Rusty," an exuberant 4-month-old Chihuahua/dachshund mix -- find him an entertaining addition to the household, especially when chasing his tail, a pastime they endorse. Even the six cats have grown tolerant of the new resident rodent nicknamed Jimmy B.
And then there are the larger "cousins" -- 19 goats, a gaggle of geese, three miniature donkeys and an alpaca named "Andy" (for the Andes Mountains). To a little squirrel, it''s a world of endless wonder, this large and loved animal kingdom on Ina and Lawrence Walters'' acreage on South Lehmberg Road in Columbus. It''s where Jimmy B.''s adventure began earlier this year.
Unbeknown to the Walters, Jimmy and his sister had been born in the hollow of a dead tree on the wood-lined property in late January or early February.
"I''d been after Lawrence to cut this tree," related Ina, with the squirrel perched contentedly on her shoulder. "He came in and said to me, ''Well, I cut the tree, but you''re about to lose some nights'' sleep."
Her husband had discovered the babies, so young their eyes were still closed, while sectioning the downed trunk. The Walters are frequent foster parents for the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society and veterans at taking in animals in need, including squirrels. They immediately began caring for the homeless pair.
Although there were no visible injuries, the little female didn''t make it, but Jimmy responded to Ina''s round-the-clock nursing. At one low point, she and a tolerant Lawrence even kept him in a small basket between them under the covers through the night to regulate his temperature.
"They really seem to sense that you''re their security," Ina said of the bond she shares with her latest rehabilitation patient. "They do have emotion."
As for his name, "One night, we were sitting here having supper with our niece, Jessica Smith," Ina recounted. "A Jimmy Buffett song came on one of those shows on the TV, and Jessica said, ''That''s what you can call him!''"
The moniker stuck, and four months later, aside from a damaged right paw he takes in stride, Jimmy B. shows no lingering affects of his ordeal. He is gaining weight, growing strong and living large.
The ''educated squirrel''
Unlike most of his bushy-tailed peers, Jimmy enjoys an active social and cultural calendar. "We call him the educated squirrel," smiled his surrogate mom. To the delight of local youngsters, the quizzical 4-month-old loves going to school. He has entertained in classrooms, frequented the Rosenzweig Arts Center downtown and even dabbled in law.
"I''m a probation officer in the Aberdeen Municipal Court," explained Ina. "When he was younger, he had to be fed every couple of hours with a puppy bottle, so he had to go with me. I got a 6-inch-by-8-inch wicker basket and made a nest in it with old T-shirts, so I could take him with me wherever I went."
He was the center of attention at "check-in" for probationers. "The guys just loved him," Ina laughed.
Indoors, Jimmy B. lightly scampers across a table to investigate a small pair of scissors while Ina indulgently spills the beans about his shenanigans.
"He can climb beautifully," she remarks with a resigned grimace. "Including to the top of the good curtains in the living room." And then, there was that incident when he got lost in the sofa cushions.
"There have been times we couldn''t find him and gone frantically searching around the house only to look up and spot him watching us from the back of Lawrence''s recliner, like ''What''s up?''"
When it comes to eating, Jimmy B. has an eclectic palette. In addition to cracked pecans, corn kernels and fruit, "He likes cooked oatmeal, and loves peanut butter, but he gets it all over his toes," his adoptive mom laughed. "I have to put him in the sink to clean his feet."
In describing his traits, she observed, "He plays like a kitten, jumping up and chasing his tail. ... It''s easy to tell when he''s happy. He makes this little chortling sound in his throat that says, ''Life is good.''"
The hardest part
With the help of local veterinarians, Ina estimates they have cared for 20 to 25 rescued squirrels over the years. "People have brought ''em to me so young they had no hair; they had to be fed with a tiny eye dropper."
It''s a mission this animal lover undertakes willingly, even when she knows the time will come when some of the four-legged friends will eventually have to find a place in their natural environment.
In Jimmy B.''s case, the couple will soon begin steadily reducing their physical contact and will increasingly let him "find" his own food, in preparation for his return to the woods.
"It''s hard, so hard," Ina admits, with emotion. "But he is a wild animal. He''ll get healthy and get nice and fat. Then, in late summer, we''ll take him somewhere, probably to the pond, and fix up a cage with the door open so he can come and go. We''ll take him early enough in the season so he can find food. And maybe, by next spring, he''ll be a father."
But for today, all that remains in the future. For now, the quizzical squirrel is only concerned with scissors, nudging them gently before silently scampering to the edge of the table to see what he can see.
It seems, as Jimmy B.''s chortling testifies, life is good.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.