When Hillsboro Veterinary Hospital Practice Manager Amy Sharp-Schneider received a call on March 16 from Rocky Fork State Park Natural Resources Officer Adam Somerville about three abandoned baby squirrels, her response was simple: “I’ll come get them.”
Sharp-Schneider said Somerville was cutting wood at his house when he noticed a squirrel leaped out of the tree he was cutting.
“He realized later that there were babies in the tree,” Sharp-Schneider said. “He tried to reunite them with their mother, and she didn’t appear. They were getting cold, and it was obvious she wasn’t coming back. At a certain point, he opted to bring them inside and give me a call because he felt their lives were going to be in jeopardy if he left them outside.”
Sharp-Schneider attempted to place the squirrels’ with a wildlife rehabilitator, but when she couldn’t, she decided to raise them herself.
Now, Sharp-Schneider has to feed the squirrels every three hours, so the trio goes to work with her in the mornings and goes home with her after the veterinary hospital closes for the day.
“I feel like I’m constantly feeding a squirrel,” Sharp-Schneider said, chuckling. “It’s a lot of work, but they’re cute, so it’s entertaining.”
The squirrels currently live in a large birdcage complete with materials like sticks to help them learn to climb. Sharp-Schneider also tries to provide them with new foods like apple slices and Snappers, which she said are essentially granola bars for rodents.
“I want them to get used to being outside. I have a bigger cage for them to graduate to, and I have a screened-in porch on my house that could give them some space to run and play in a supervised way when they get a little bigger,” Sharp-Schneider said.
Though she was already known as an “extreme animal-lover,” Sharp-Schneider said the squirrels are becoming part of her identity to others.
“I’ve become that person who now has a squirrel in my sleeve, or on my shoulder, all the time. I’m the weird squirrel lady,” she said. “My whole life kind of revolves around animals. It’s not that far-fetched to think that I would be a person who would tote squirrels around with me wherever I go.”
In addition to growing up in and around the Hillsboro Veterinary Hospital and volunteering at the Highland County Dog Pound as an adult, Sharp-Schneider has been what she calls the office’s “sucker” since she was 10 or 12 years old and a wounded squirrel came into the veterinary hospital.
“I ended up being the one who bottle-fed it. I guess I’ve been a sucker my whole life. It’s just in my nature, I suppose,” Sharp-Schneider said. “When there’s a baby of any sort that needs to be bottle-fed or something like that, I’m always the one who ends up taking it home.”
Sharp-Schneider doesn’t only take care of squirrels, though. Last year, she also took care of a young starling that fell from the nest and an abandoned baby chipmunk.
“The chipmunk was a teeny-tiny baby when I got it, and it was the most joyful thing,” Sharp-Schneider said. “I released it at a friend’s house, where they have beautiful gardens. They feed the chipmunks daily, and they try to keep the snakes and kitties out of their garden, so I figured this chipmunk had the best chance at life there. Even after I released her in the wild, I was able to go to their house and feed her. It was fun that I still had a relationship with her, even though she was off in the wild.”
Sharp-Schneider emphasized that even though baby wild animals are cute, they really belong in the wild.
“I could’ve kept that chipmunk I raised last year in my pocket for the rest of my life because I loved that little thing so much,” Sharp-Schneider said. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, how are you going to let her go? How could you part with her?’ And I really felt bad parting with her, but if you could live in a beautiful garden and have someone feed you nuts every day or you could live in a Habitrail like a hamster, obviously you would want to live in the wild. These animals are meant to be wild animals.”
As someone known for her love of animals and affiliation with the veterinary hospital, Sharp-Schneider frequently receives calls from people concerned about what they believe may be young, abandoned animals.
“Because of what’s happening now with the coronavirus, there are a lot more people who are home and working in their yards and noticing things. I always get a lot of calls in springtime, but it seems more than usual right now,” Sharp-Schneider said. “Lots of people want to do something to help, and I never mind getting a phone call about area wildlife. I’m not a wildlife officer, but I’m happy to help or try to get them to a rescue group or foster placement or whatever I can do to help them in the meantime until they get to where they need to be.”
Because it’s technically illegal for someone to raise a wild animal without a license, Sharp-Schneider stressed the importance of contacting a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator whenever someone sees a potentially injured or abandoned wild animal instead of trying to raise the animal themselves.
“You have to remember if you choose to try to raise something like a raccoon: yes, it’s cute when it’s little, and yes, it’s funny when it gets bigger, and yes, their little hands are the cutest thing on the face of the earth, but they can cause a whole lot of trouble and be very destructive as they get bigger,” she said. “That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure that type of animal is being raised by someone who has done it before, is equipped to deal with that, will make sure they get released back into the wild, which is their ideal situation.”
And that’s her goal for the squirrels she’s raising. Sharp-Schneider expects to have the squirrels until they’re at least 4 months old, but after that, she’ll return them to the wild.
“I don’t know where I’ll release these guys just yet. I want to find the safest place possible for them,” she said. “Based on what I’ve read, it says you should release them at 4 to 6 months old. I’ll probably release them when they’re closer to 4 months, but I think that’s the sort of thing where you play it by ear. You see if they seem independent enough, and if they’re able to do it on their own, then it’s time for them to go. They don’t want to live in my house forever. They want to go have fun outside.”
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.