Environment

Wildlife rehab worker has scars to prove why you can’t keep a baby squirrel as a pet

This screenshot shows the scars a squirrel left on an employee at NC Wildlife Rehab.
This screenshot shows the scars a squirrel left on an employee at NC Wildlife Rehab. Facebook

If the words of the director at a wildlife rehab center do not register, maybe the pictures she posted will.

The images show scratches, cuts and scarred flesh.

The injuries occurred because Emilie Nelson, who runs North Carolina Wildlife Rehab, tried to take care of a squirrel that had been raised as a pet from the time it was a baby.

Now she’s warning others not to make the mistake that the person she took the squirrel from made, saying her injures are worse in reality than they appear. “Way worse.”

“They’re not pets, they will never be pets and when they get older and hit sexual maturity, they can be dangerous. VERY DANGEROUS!!!” Nelson wrote in a Facebook post.

Nelson told The State she made the post not to scare people, but to educate them in an effort to protect wildlife.

“It’s a great thing to learn to respect wildlife and nature,” said Nelson, who has no issues with rabies or infections from the attack.

In the post, Nelson detailed the realities of trying to domesticate a squirrel, as part of the warning.

Although a baby squirrel might be very cute, it can destroy a home and demands time and attention, according to the post.

While there might be the temptation to release the maturing squirrel into the wild, Nelson said that is effectively a death sentence for the animal that has become “imprinted.”

“It can’t go outside,” the post reads. “You have destroyed that animal. It doesn’t know to be scared of people, cats, dogs, hawks, or owls. It doesn’t know what to eat or how to live.”

She adds that a squirrel in the wild will try to avoid people but one raised in captivity will not.

“A normal squirrel outside won’t attack you. It will run away,” Nelson said in an interview with The State. “Domestic animals are bred to be domestic for years and years and years.”

Nelson was attacked because of the previous efforts to raise the baby squirrel. It was unexpected, according to the post, which said the squirrel has been cared for at the rehab for months, and had been sweet until recently. Nelson said she was aware of the dangers of agreeing to care for the now adult squirrel.

In spite of their diminutive stature, squirrels can attack with power.

“Squirrels crack black walnuts with their teeth and their jaws. That’s about 7,000 pounds of pressure that went though my muscles, joints, skin and bone — multiple, multiple times,” Nelson wrote. “Humans have about 500 psi. Their teeth also meet in the middle.”

As part of the warning, Nelson says “I’ll have these scars for the rest of my life,” adding that she’ll likely help care for the squirrel for the next 20 years. That’s because she is responsible for its life since it cannot go into the wild.

“It’s a long-term commitment,” Nelson said.

It’s “a really bad idea” to make a squirrel a pet, according to Vetz Insight, which listed 10 reasons that echoed what Nelson said.

Healthy squirrels are not meant to be house pets,” the website reasoned.

It is illegal to have a wild animal as a pet in North Carolina, according to Nelson who said she treats more than 1,200 animals a year. In South Carolina, the owner of a squirrel must have a permit, spruce pets reported.

Nelson’s post implores followers to avoid the temptation of trying to raise any wild animal, even if they seem to be a helpless baby.

Not so subtly, she said, “DON’T EVER TRY TO MAKE A WILD ANIMAL A PET.... NEVER.”

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.
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