Local Wildlife – As Pets? A Cautionary Tale
©, By Bev-Sue Powers (www.ballonaphotography.com)
Living in The Ballona Wetlands area, I encounter and observe many wildlife species living among us – raccoon families, rabbits, many bird species, opossums, coyotes, California king snakes, and more. I’ve always admired them and even am able to spot the regulars, but always as an observer. A turning point came when I met Mille.
Millie, My Wild Squirrel-friend
About three years ago I noticed a squirrel hanging around, looking desperate. She seemed in shock, her tits engorged having just given birth to a litter. “Her first?” I wondered. Taking pity or her, I put a nut on my patio about 5 feet from my slider. She was so skittish, she could barely make herself come that close to me, yet hunger overruled her fear. I set out another with same result. Eventually she started showing up regularly. When this happened, I wondered if I could get her to overcome her skittishness. I started moving the nuts closer to me, a few inches at a time. After about 3 months, she became more used to me and I could feed her with my hand, one nut at a time.
I started introducing grapes, which she loved! Ever curious how far I could go with taming her, I eventually had her climbing onto my lap to get her nuts and grapes for the day. She always saved the grapes for last! I eventually taught her some tricks. Sometimes she came by just to hang out and watch what I was doing.
Millie helping me write my blog.
Then I caught word from neighbors there was a squirrel terrorizing them – jumping up on the screen doors to peer into their apartments and fearlessly coming in if the doors were left open and helping herself to food left on the counters. I knew it was Millie. Unbeknownst to them, I had created a monster!
Millie proudly showing me the avocado she just stole from my counter.
But something else started happening. Some thought Millie’s antics were cute and they, too, started feeding her. But they fed her chips, bread, and other highly processed food. Gradually, she became increasingly incontinent, to point I could no longer let her on my lap.
Millie stops by to take a selfie with me.
I haven’t seen Millie since the end of March and assume she died. I wonder if my teaching her to not fear humans accelerated her demise. I’ll never know. Though I immensely enjoyed our visits, I am reluctant to feed/train wildlife again.
P.S. Here come our Winter Neighbors!
The scouts for many of our wintering bird neighbors will start showing up in September, with the rest of the flocks, arriving sporadically in October and November. Bring out your bird books, download the birding apps, and dust off your binoculars!
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