I’ve been having trouble hearing lately. Actually, it’s been going on since about November – a nasty hissing and ringing that never seems to stop. I had it pegged as the side effect of a medication. I’ve since stopped taking it, but the ringing hasn’t stopped.
So I got my hearing checked on Friday – turns out my ears are perfect. The doc indicated the hearing issues are probably the result of TMJ inflammation (Translation: I’m grinding my jaw too much.) “Your hearing is better than mine, in fact. So good, you can hear mice whisper.”
Ironic, really. (I mentioned this on twitter, though I replaced whisper with fart, because I thought that was about the same and doubly amusing – though fate apparently had the last laugh about it all.)
At any rate, fast forward to Friday evening when I went to pick up Maggie from doggy daycare. On the way back to the car, I heard a series of extremely high pitched squeaks and discovered a tiny field mouse baby laying on the pavement. It could only have been a few days old – hairless, blind and smaller than a quarter.
In general, I have a “walk on by” attitude when it comes to wildlife, particularly babies. I spent a summer as an intern at a wildlife hospital about 20 years ago, and I volunteered after that for the local wildlife hotline. Most of the time, especially in the Spring, babies that are “rescued” by well meaning people are actually being ripped away from their families. Baby bunny hiding in the grass about the side of your fist? Walk on by. He’s big enough to be on his own.
Baby bird hopping about that can’t quite fly? Walk on by. Her parents are nearby keeping an eye on her and feeding her as needed. She’s just learning to become mobile.
And quite frankly, not everything can be saved. Not everything should be. Circle of life and all that.
So I don’t know why I didn’t take my advice this time. I still don’t.
I ended up snagging a cup from the daycare and scooping up the mouse. He didn’t appear injured from what I could tell and although cool the touch, was certainly making enough noise to indicate he wasn’t quite ready to roll over just yet. No idea how he got there – best guess is that a bird or some other predator snagged him and was maybe startled into dropping him. (Seemed like an odd place for a mama mouse to have left him, anyway.)
My initial intention was to do a quick scoop and rescue and then find a local rehabber to take him to raise and release. That’s still my intention, though at this point no one has returned my calls. It was too late on Friday to expect a call back so I figured I was stuck.
The truth is, raising any baby wild animal can be fairly difficult. The younger they are, the harder it is. I mention this not to whine, but so that people can understand the responsibility involved. Baby mice can’t regulate body temperature, so a heating pad is required, set on low…but only under half the container to keep the little booger from cooking.
Baby mice can’t poop or pee on their own – their mamas lick their bellies to stimulate them into going. If you don’t do this for them, they die since they can’t recognize the fact that they have to go. (Note: Do this with a damp q-tip. DO NOT go around licking baby mice. Nasty.)
Baby mice have to be fed every 2 to 3 hours – every day, all day. And that includes nights. So yes, that means I’ve been getting up multiple times a night and slowly dripping diluted kitten milk into his mouth with a paint brush. At the wildlife hospital we’d use a syringe with an infant intubation tube (super, super tiny), but I’m rather short on medical equipment.
The paintbrush, although slow, works really well. I debated on a syringe anyway, but something this small is very easy to asphyxiate, and he latches onto the brush pretty well, so it’s better to let him set the pace. It takes between 15 to 30 minutes for each feeding depending on how squirmy he is. His skin is paper thin, so some delicacy is required and he’s got a habit of rolling around rather vigorously around feeding time.
Thus far, he seems to be growing. Once he opens his eyes in a few days, I should be able to wean him and things will get a little easier.
The offshoot of all this, though, is that he may very well die anyway. I’ve done this enough times with squirrels, birds, possums, you name it. The baby who is thriving today could be dead by the next morning with no warning. (Baby cottontails, btw? Suck. I’ve seen them literally have heart attacks upon being picked up and then dying in minutes. They’re just so high strung.)
The other offshoot is that I don’t want a new pet. But if I’m not careful, he may imprint (and that’s pretty likely at this point) and then he won’t be able to be released at all. On the other hand, Lucy has already named him TJ Squeakers, so that’s dangerous territory.
Hopefully I’ll be getting that rehabber call soon and I’ll be able to take him to a place that can oversee his release into the wild.
In the meantime, just call me the mouse whisperer.