Scene4 Magazine: Michael Bettencourt |
Michael Bettencourt
The Squirrel and My Cat

May 2013

On April 6, 2013, I was attacked by a squirrel on my back deck while having lunch with the Marvelous Maria Beatriz.

Yes, it is true.

Our next-door neighbor, Tom, picked up an abandoned squirrel pup last year and raised it over the winter in a cage. This spring, he began releasing it into the backyard to explore and do squirrel-things, which he announced to us he was doing as we ate our excellently prepared sandwiches and drank our excellently distilled beverages (a cold Dogfish Head beer for me, a staccato prosecco for her).

Or, to say this another way, he had released into the world a creature that had no fear of humans.

The squirrel came up the stairs to our deck and paused. Given our domesticated attitudes towards animals in our urban environment (that is to say, we forgot they are wild creatures), we thought out loud, "How cute." He climbed up my arm and sat on the nape of my neck, chittering. Still cute.

And then he wasn't as he got it into his squirrel-brain that he should attack me, which he did with great relish, giving me a good puncture wound on each pinkie finger and a trellis of scratches on my hands, forearms, and the top of my head. After his first sally, I threw him away from me; he climbed onto the railing and launched himself for a second attack. The only way I could get him to loosen his bite on my right finger was to grab his jaw from behind his head with my left thumb and forefinger and squeeze hard, like trying to squirt a pit from an olive.

By this time Tom has come up the stairs, and I hand the critter off to him while MB is helping me stanch the blood flow and get ready to head out to the emergency room. (Wildlife note: squirrels don't carry rabies, though Lord knows what else was plaqued on his claws and teeth — and as we learned later, Tom hadn't ever taken him to a vet, which made sense since he wasn't supposed to have a domesticated squirrel in the house in the first place.)

I am something of a novelty in the emergency room since my ailment, such as it is, trumps the mundane cold or sprained joint. By this time I've stopped bleeding, but both of my little fingers have swollen and are throbbing, and I'm thinking, "Now begins the tetanus." (Then I remembered that I had a tetanus shot a few years ago after I almost chopped off the tip of my finger with an axe, but at this moment I did not feel the anti-tetanus in my blood. Silly boy.)

Three hours later we're out with a prescription for my antibiotic, and three hours after that we've finally found a 24-hour pharmacy where I can get it filled. (We did get to finish our sandwiches after the hospital, so a little bit of break in-between.) So, six hours spent post-attack — and we have to let the police know about the animal because the hospital is going to call the police as well, as mandated.

The squirrel, it seems, is going to be in a lot of trouble through no fault of its own. Once again, humans muck up whatever they touch.

I'm writing this with Cordelia in my lap, warm and purring and completely trusting and completely non-feral (though cats can shuck off their domestication quite easily — just ask the millions of dead song birds wasted by unhoused felines). Even if we pick her up to cradle her (which she does not like), she never turns savage. She twists and turns and mewls and pushes, but she never attacks — why should she? She knows, in whatever way cats know these things, that we mean no harm, that we'll never mean any harm to her.

This is not the squirrel's life, and it shouldn't be — he shouldn't lose his fear of us because we are not to be trusted — we think we can redesign whatever space we walk into for our own comfort and benefit, even if we have shown to us time and time again that we suck at such interventions and usually only bring havoc even when we think we're bringing improvement. Humans so much want to think that they are better engineers than they are, but whatever improvements have been wrung from the natural world have come at a cost that now threatens to wipe us out.

Squirrel, I don't hold anything of what happened against you. But don't come up on our back deck again because I will give you a reason to fear human beings and bring you back to your senses so that you'll get out of the cage and back into the trees and away away away from us.

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©2013 Michael Bettencourt
©2013 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt is a produced and published playwright and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate" and wife, Maria-Beatriz

Read his theatre reviews at Scene4's Qreviews
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