Squirrel Lady is nuts about furry friends

March 13, 2003, midnight | By Brittany Moyer | 17 years, 10 months ago

Dedicated woman has raised more than 15 orphaned animals in her Takoma Park home

Her hands flip through the photo album. As if longing to touch the newborns, her fingers glide over each page's glossy surface. She has memorized the traits of the babies in the photographs—the half-closed eyes, the barely-there hair and the soft, chubby bodies. She remembers how she nursed each one and then sadly sent them out into the world. "These were my very first two squirrels," the woman says wistfully.

Yes, squirrels—the same creatures that nest in attics and chimneys, gnaw holes in roofs and swipe all the bird food.

But Barbara Davidson, a 64-year-old retired English teacher from Colorado, sees beyond those things. Davidson is the hospitable Squirrel Lady of Takoma Park.

Two squirrels nestle in a room of her Takoma Park house, a space festooned with ropes that span from one wall to another, continue through a doggy door in the wall and finally tie around a tall tree outside. These two squirrel visitors, who now live in the outside world, once called this very room home.

"Look what I've got back here," says Davidson, motioning toward the rear of her house to a room overlooking her snow-covered backyard. A screened wooden frame bisects the room, separating a collection of plants from her squirrel-friendly area.

"Yesterday's snow brought these two back in," the Squirrel Lady explains, watching the squirrels with a wide smile. Her open palm contains an almond that she slowly brings to the screen, and a squirrel hops onto the partition and nibbles at the nut.

Davidson has always harbored a passion for animals, but her love for squirrels is extraordinary. Six years ago, some neighbors accidentally knocked a nest of baby squirrels out of a tree and brought them to her, knowing she loved wildlife. Since then, Davidson has lovingly raised more than 15 baby squirrels to maturity before releasing them into their natural habitat.

After bidding farewell to her first squirrels, Davidson discovered she had raised them illegally. But through Second Chance Wildlife Center, a nonprofit volunteer wildlife rehab facility that strives to return injured and orphaned animals to their habitat, Davidson became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Second Chance now provides her with the baby squirrels she raises.

Because nurturing these little animals is such a demanding task, Davidson, during her fourth year of fostering, posted a note on the neighborhood email list-serve seeking a devoted apprentice to help her. A chipper response came immediately from junior Piper Hanson.

"I love all animals! When I saw Barbara's email, I immediately told her I'd like to help," Hanson recalls enthusiastically.

Hanson discovered that tending infant squirrels is no pushover job. "Every day around 4:00 p.m., I walked to her house," Hanson says. "We took the squirrels out of their cage and weighed them, took notes on their appearance, fed them and then . . ."

She stops, smiles and laughs out the remainder of the sentence. ". . . And then we'd make them go to the bathroom. You have to do that so they don't go in the aquarium.

"After that," Hanson continues, "we wrapped them up and put them back in the aquarium. That went on each day until they opened their eyes."

The first measure of squirrel maturity comes when the animal opens its eyes. But for the Squirrel Lady, it's also the indicator that she'll have to release the young friend soon. This past fall, she released two of her squirrels right into her backyard. Fortunately, it wasn't a goodbye forever.

"Those two squirrels come back and visit her through the doggy door she has in the wall. It's so cute . . . they remember her!" Hanson says. "She's so in touch with the animal world. She thinks about squirrels and what's best for them while all the rest of the world views them as lousy pests."

Davidson's closeness with animals may be attributed to her early contact with wildlife; as a small girl living in Bolivia, she learned to nurse birds, foxes, kittens and skunks. As she tended more animals, her reputation spread. "Everyone began bringing me animals that were hurt in hopes that I would be able to care for them until they got better," Davidson recalls.

Davidson's childhood ex-perience prepared her to be a veterinarian. These aspirations never materialized, but she's not bitter about it. "I'm retired now, and I finally have the chance to do what I wanted to do my entire life—work with animals," Davidson says.

Some may raise an eyebrow at Davidson's squirrel hospitality, but she remains steadfast. "Squirrels may be a dime a dozen, and I know a lot of people don't like them," she explains. "But I just can't think of them that way."

To the Squirrel Lady, these everyday creatures are friends, kin and the embodiment of a lifelong dream.

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Brittany Moyer. Brittany is a senior in the Communication Arts Program at Montgomery Blair. She has taken pride in being part of Blair's girls' soccer team, Blair's <i>a capella</i> group InToneNation, and of course <i>Silver Chips</i>. Outside of school, Brit goes crazy for arts & crafts, outdoorsy … More »

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