Meet Fudgie the Squirrel, who enjoys underarm rubs, pecans and warm offices.
Last August, when he was just a few weeks old, Linda McCoy found him lying on the sidewalk outside her South Austin business, injured and abandoned. She scooped him up, whisked him indoors, warmed him by tucking him in her bra, and searched online to figure out what to do next.
The fox squirrel fit in the palm of her hand. Its eyes hadn’t yet opened. It apparently had fallen from a nest high in a treetop; it was bleeding slightly from a bump on its head. Heeding advice she read on the internet, McCoy placed him in a cardboard box from a fudge store she’d visited in Michigan. The tiny animal curled up in some shredded paper, and she set the box — with a note taped to it that said, “Don’t take the squirrel” — back outside.
She hoped the squirrel’s mother would retrieve it. But a few hours later, nothing had happened. When night fell, McCoy decided to take the squirrel home. (Who wouldn’t be tempted? But read on to find out why that’s not always such a good idea.) Based on more research, she fed the squirrel strawberry-flavored Pedialyte from an eyedropper. The next morning, she bought some puppy milk replacement, and Fudgie began his recovery.
Today Fudgie’s ears resemble tawny-colored rose petals; his eyes are black pearls. He eats Henry’s Healthy Squirrel Blocks and the occasional unshelled nut. (He likes pecans best.) He likes to pilfer items off McCoy’s desk. He once swiped a tape dispenser, and he likes to chew on a toothbrush he carried to the top of his double-decker wire cage. He’s been known to bury nuts in McCoy’s hair, especially if she’s wearing braids. His way of flipping, jumping and somersaulting looks like a squirrel’s version of parkour.
“I wasn’t planning on being a squirrel mom, but he’s been a little joy,” says McCoy, a competitive paddleboard racer who owns a textbook consulting company. She also has two sons, ages 21 and 11. “He’s like my littlest kid.”
Hayley Hudnall, an Austin wildlife rehabilitator, says others who find abandoned baby squirrels should resist the temptation to bring them into their homes. Observe the animal for an hour or two first.
“Sometimes Mom will come back down and get it if it’s an accident,” says Hudnall, executive director of Austin Wildlife Rescue. “If she doesn’t, bring (the baby) to us and we’ll get it on the right diet and raise it with other squirrels so it can go back out into the wild.”
Under Texas Parks and Wildlife regulation, it’s illegal for anyone without a rehabilitation permit to raise a fur-bearing animal. McCoy does not have a permit, but has since joined the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and filled out an application for a rehabilitation permit with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. She says she has no plans to rescue any other animal and simply wanted to save one baby squirrel.
Squirrel season is just gearing up. Austin Wildlife Rescue typically gets hundreds of baby squirrels as it starts to warm up in late February, and again in July and August.
McCoy hopes to release Fudgie to the wild as soon as temperatures are warm enough. “Fudgie is going to start spending more time outside,” she says. “(I’m) starting to transition him toward release. It makes me sad to think about, but that’s what’s best for him.”
In the meantime, she wears long gloves when she handles Fudgie, who roams freely around her office, where she brings him every day. When he was a baby, she hid him in her shirt and took him with her to run errands.
Today he travels in a bright green backpack with a porthole window that looks like a space capsule. Sometimes Fudgie naps on McCoy’s lap, and he leaves tiny paw prints on her computer screen. He raises his paws blissfully when she scratches his underarms. He also chirps and grunts, depending on his mood.
“He’s kind of a spaz,” McCoy says. “Very acrobatic and curious.”
This fall, she took him to visit her sister in Boerne. She let him outside, where he dashed to the top of a tree, then came down when she called him. The same thing happened the next day.
“I think I’d be OK with him not coming back if it’s not cold outside. My fear is he’s not going to be afraid of humans,” McCoy says. “I’m fully prepared to keep him as a pet if I have to. But I feel like he deserves to be out in the trees.”