A Victoria man is heartbroken after learning an Eastern Grey Squirrel he was raising was euthanized three days after he felt forced to hand it over to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Shelby Gondor and his friends found the squirrel while working on his car, and took it in after it was left alone for several hours.
At the time Gondor was unaware of the BC SPCA’s Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre (ARC), so he sought out ways to keep the squirrel – which he named Timmy – alive. Gondor began a rigorous feeding schedule using Petrolyte and puppy milk, feeding the squirrel every few hours.
“It was very enjoyable to watch him grow,” Gondor said. “He was like my son. You could see everyday the more you fed him, the more he’d grow and the more fur would grow.”
After a week he learned about Wild ARC and took him there, where he was told Timmy was too vulnerable to live and would need to be euthanized.
“They said they didn’t have enough resources at the time to take care of him,” Gondor said. “So I sat there and fought with them for 30 minutes and told him there’s got to be a better chance to helping him.”
Wild ARC staff suggested leaving Timmy back where he was found in hopes that he’d be reunited with his mother. Gondor tried this with no success.
“If I left him outside he was gonna die. If I took him to Wild ARC he was gonna die,” he said. “So I had to take care of him, it was the only way he’d live.”
Gondor and a friend took turns looking after Timmy, who continued to grow. They checked in with Wild ARC, which gave them temporary permission to keep Timmy in their care for longer than the legal 24-hour period. However, after several weeks Wild ARC followed up with the duo, telling them it was illegal to continue harbouring the wild animal.
“They started telling us that we have to give back the squirrel, or that they’d physically take him by calling a conservation officer on us,” Gondor said.
When Gondor and his friend dropped him off, staff promised that they would not euthanize him. Three days later, they found out that hadn’t been true.
“We knew something was up because they were acing weird, and wouldn’t give us an update,” Gondor said. “I kept asking if he was dead or alive and they wouldn’t even tell me that.”
When they were finally able to speak with a wildlife rehabilitation specialist, they were told he’d been euthanized and got conflicting stories about the health of Timmy. Staff told Gondor’s friend that X-rays had shown severe bone deformation and a fractured skull, but told Gondor no X-rays had been taken.
Andrea Wallace is the manager of Wild ARC, and said there has been a lot of confusion between the separate conversations. She said there were no X-rays done, but blood work and a physical assessment indicated that the squirrel had not been healthy.
“We did a full assessment to see if we could rehabilitate, and unfortunately he was very developmentally stunted when he came back for care. He was about four weeks behind, and less than half of what he should have been,” Wallace said. “The animal was suffering, it wasn’t in a good, healthy state.”
Staff opted to euthanize Timmy, and performed a necropsy afterwards. It showed no broken bones, but did indicate bruising near the skull, and possible problems with bone development that would make him a target in the wild.
When asked why staff had promised not the euthanize Timmy, Wallace said they were trying their best.
“We always try to give patients a chance, but upon assessment our decision to proceed with care may change from what we can say on the phone without seeing the animal as well as at first glance of the animal when it is brought in,” Wallace said. “We want to save them as much as possible, and we don’t make the decision the euthanize an animal light-heartedly.”
As a non-native species, healthy Eastern Grey Squirrels at Wild Arc are sterilized, tagged and released within one kilometre of where they were found.
“For such an infant squirrel, the likelihood of survival was very low and through the night, care would have been required which Wild ARC cannot provide,” Wallace said. “There are worse things than death such as an inhumane life. It is not easy to make these decisions – our staff have that tough job.”
Wallace added that keeping a squirrel in captivity is illegal, and that there are no sanctuaries for squirrels in Canada. She further recommended that anyone who finds a baby squirrel or injured animal call Wild ARC as soon as possible to give them a better chance.
Still, Gondor felt like he’d been lied to, and said he wouldn’t consider consulting the agency again.
“It’s really hard to trust Wild ARC after this experience,” he said. “That guy was a pretty big soldier. He kept fighting and kept going for life. He didn’t deserve to die.”
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