All sorts of critters get inside people’s homes to avoid outside disturbances, but this particular visit was special. There, on the bed, sat the most precious surprise hidden under a pillow: two animal babies nestled on the duvet. But what was their discoverer to do with them?
One of the babies is now known as Little Thumbelina, and she doesn’t just have a name right out of a fairy tale. In fact, she has an origin that sounds just like one too. But her story is true, and it begins on a chilly morning in March 2016 in New York City.
A construction crew working in the city that day actually destroyed a nest belonging to Thumbelina’s mother. This left the creature homeless as a result. However, the expecting mommy’s survival instincts led her to an alternate birthing spot.
To be more precise, the mom-to-be climbed inside a 10th-story apartment through an open window. And in the warmth and comfort of that room, she had two little pink daughters. Then she set about remaking her nest to keep the newborns safe.
The apartment’s resident was out when the mom visited, of course, but he saw her handiwork when he returned. Twigs, leaves and pine needles covered his bed, after all. Yet the biggest surprise was hiding under his pillow in the form of two baby eastern gray squirrels.
And although the anonymous man had no idea how to help the squirrels himself, he knows someone who does. So he subsequently called Christina and Michael Reyes, two animal rehabilitators working in NYC. You could say the wife-husband team have just a little past experience in squirrel care.
In fact, Christina has cared for orphan squirrels for ten years. Michael – a high school teacher by day – also assists his wife in her duties. So the pair went out to try and help the squirrel babies reunite with their mother.
But just two hours after their birth, the babies’ mother was already hesitant to reclaim them. It would seem that the rescuers’ presence – and their actions to save her offspring – frightened her. Christina explained as much to the Daily Mail on November 6, 2018.
“She kept bringing in nest building materials, but she wasn’t taking her babies back,” Christina said of the momma squirrel. This was despite the rehabilitators’ best efforts to convince her otherwise. And just hours later, the adult squirrel stopped visiting completely, and a tragedy followed.
Yes, one of the little babies unfortunately passed away in her mommy’s absence. But the Reyes couple took on the remaining sister, naming her Thumbelina after the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The rescuers intended to raise Thumb until they could reintroduce her to nature.
“Almost all squirrels we take in are rescued and released into the wild,” Thumbelina’s official blog explains. “But Thumbelina was a special case.” It seems that the unique circumstances of the baby squirrel’s birth and the subsequent chain of events had had an effect on Thumbelina.
The blog continued, “Due to an abnormal birthing season and the passing of her sister, little Thumb grew up all by herself and did not learn to interact with other squirrels. By the time the normal birthing season had arrived, Thumbelina was already passed the point of bonding with her kind.”
Because of this, the Reyes pair took little Thumbelina to a veterinarian specializing in wild animals. The vets then determined that the squirrel’s natural habitat was too dangerous for her. Instead of opting to euthanize the baby, though, Thumbelina’s rescuers wanted to give her a chance at life.
And so the Reyes family decided to adopt Thumb as a house squirrel, and it’s probably fortunate that they did. It sounds like she would have had a potentially short life outside the safety of a human home, after all. And Thumbelina isn’t what you’d call a squirrel’s squirrel.
“When we tried to introduce her to other squirrel babies, she isolated herself,” Christina told the Daily Mail. “She curled up into a ball, and she wanted nothing to do with them.” Thumb doesn’t move like the other squirrels, either.
“She walked on the ground,” Christina continued. “She didn’t like to climb or jump.” In addition, Thumb’s blog recounts how her development was always slow compared to other squirrel babies. Instead of opening her eyes after four or five weeks, for example, it took Thumbelina closer to nine.
“She’s afraid of everything,” Christina added. “We brought her to the park, and she acted like it was a haunted house. She doesn’t like the cold. She just huddles herself into a ball. She’s not outside squirrel material.” Regardless, her human mommy and daddy think she’s perfect.
So instead of looking after Thumb doing squirrely things, her parents spend their time simply showering her with affection. And Thumb certainly enjoys cuddles with Mommy and Daddy. She even watches their TV and has a rich (if expensive-sounding) diet of arugula, sweet peas, kale and avocado.
“I love Thumbelina so much,” Christina admitted. “My husband and I knew that we never wanted children, [but] Thumbelina is our baby. She’s my little best friend; every day I look forward to spending time with her. When I’m feeling low, she comes over and snuggles with me.”
But while Thumbelina isn’t interested in the company of other squirrels, she’s still doing her part for them. “Thumbelina is now our little ambassador squirrel,” her blog explains. “She helps us to teach people how important it is to respect and be kind to all wildlife and spread the message, ‘Each little life is big to the one living it.’”