Family takes pity on Pito, take injured squirrel into their care

Despite good intentions, experts warn against bringing wild animals home

Pito was quick, Dayana Godinez discovered.

The 6.5-centimetre-long squirrel showed no signs of slowing down as Godinez chased it around the house trying to help heal his wounds.

A week earlier, Godinez’s daughters found the baby squirrel being kicked by some teenagers in a park. The two girls were alerted by the cries of the baby squirrel on their way to school.

He was so little and he was hurt.

—Dayana Godinez

One daughter rushed to tell the boys to leave the little squirrel alone while the other picked it up and took it home with her.

Pito, as they took to calling the squirrel, was bleeding and in obvious pain.

“He was so little and he was hurt,” Godinez said.

The two girls begged their mom to allow them to keep Pito until he recovered.

“I told them I did not want him in the house,” Godinez said. “After a few calls to animal organizations that told us just to leave him in the park, I told the girls that he could stay with us till he was better.”

Pito’s stay with Godinez and her family is not unusual, Toronto Wildlife Centre director Nathalie Karvonen said.

“We do get quite young baby squirrels that every single season people have tried to raise,” she said.

Karvonen said she believes it’s usually well-intentioned people that take these wild animals into their home but it isn’t a good idea unless they are professionally trained to do so.

While he was recovering from his injuries, Pito was treated as a member of the Godinez family. He would eat walnuts and sometimes human food, which to a wild animal may do more harm than good, Karvonen said.

“They give them lots of peanuts, for example, because they like peanuts and that is an extremely deficient diet for them,” Karvonen said. “It can lead to metabolic diseases or the death of the animal.”

It’s not just the health of the wild animal that’s at stake in situations like Pito’s, said Brad Gates, president of Gates Wildlife Control.

“[If] these animals’ feces were to be accidentally ingested, it can be very serious for humans.” he said.

Often these animals end up making damages to their family investment, their home.

—Brad Gates

Aside from the health risks, Gates said keeping a wild animal can be costly.

“Often these animals end up making damages to their family investment, their home,” he said. “For example, when there is wiring up in the attic, they might chew electrical wire, which could result in a fire.”

Though Pito didn’t cause that level of damage, he did leave his mark, Godinez said. He would sometimes bite or scratch the family, and the squirrel’s claws would often get stuck in the curtains, sheets and floor mats.

“His favourite place was the curtain,” she said. “One would come into the house and see him hanging everywhere. He also destroyed with his teeth and claws new furniture and some of our clothes.”

As the time passed by, Pito began behaving like a domestic pet might, Godinez said.

“He was very quiet and Pito listened to orders,” she said. “He seemed more like a dog than a squirrel.”

It is critically important for wild animals to stay wild.

—Nathalie Karvonen

That, Karvonen said, is another risk to a wild animal taken into a home.

“It is critically important for wild animals to stay wild,” she said. “It is important for a wild animal not only to be physically healthy but also mentally healthy if they want to go back to the wild again.

“There are cases in which sometimes wild animals go back to their habitat and are able to survive. But in other cases these animals are killed right away because they don’t have any survival skills.”

With Pito on the mend from his injuries, Godinez recognized the wild animal should go home.

“After some time I decided to let him go for good,” she said.