One afternoon, heading to the mailbox, I came across a tiny, pink, hairless creature curled in the driveway. What is that? It had bulging eyes—dark blue beneath unopened lids—ears flattened to its head, a birthmark on its neck, miniature claws, long feet and a curved tail. It appeared to be a fetus, a cat fetus, judging by the tiny whiskers. And in the hollow beneath its ribs, I saw the beating of its heart, the quick inhale and exhale of breath.
This fetus was alive!
I needed to remove it from the driveway so it wouldn’t get flattened by an incoming car. I hurried to the garage, pulled on a pair of disposable gloves so my human scent wouldn’t prevent the mother from retrieving her baby, found a thin piece of cardboard in the recycling bin, and used it to tenderly scoop up the fetus and slide it into a nest of earth near the hedge. As I gazed in wonder, ants began crawling over its face and body. I moved it to the other side of the driveway, in the shade so it wouldn’t burn, and ran inside to call my mother for advice.
“I found a fetus in the driveway,” I blurted, and couldn’t hold back the tears. “A tiny…kitty cat fetus!” I don’t know why it upset me so.
She tried to reassure me. “If it was aborted early, there must have been a reason.”
“But it’s still alive!” I felt devastated over the little guy, and it was clearly a male, I’d seen that much of its anatomy. “I’m afraid the crows will eat it!”
“Get a box,” she advised, “With a lid on top so the crows won’t see what’s inside. Leave it open in front so mommy can get to the baby.”
I dug through the recycling bin again, found a soft-drink box, and cut an opening in one end. From the rag pile I found a soft hand towel and trimmed it to the size of a tiny blanket. I grabbed several paper towels, and properly gloved, hurried to the driveway. The little guy was exactly where I’d left him, still breathing, heart ticking. He fit in the palm of my hand, barely three inches long. I marveled at its miniature size, realizing this was the first living thing I had touched in five months. I stroked his curved spine, slid him onto a nest of paper towels in the box, tucked the towel around his shoulders, and set the box near a large clay pot of flowers at the entrance to my landlady’s house.
When I checked in the evening, he was still there. With darkness descending and the air cooling, I moved the kitty closer to the house for warmth, under the porch light so mommy would find him. At eleven p.m. I put on my bathrobe. I knew the creature wouldn’t last the night, but I didn’t want him to freeze to death. I brought the box into the garage, and went to sleep.
In the morning, dreading the moment, I opened the garage door. The fetus was halfway out of the box, partly on the cool cement, still breathing. This little guy was a survivor! Shaking, he tried to raise himself on his forelegs and gave up. I put on gloves and brought him outside into the sun.
Maybe I should feed him, I thought. But what? Being lactose-intolerant, I had no milk. Water! Every living creature needs water, right? I soaked a few Q-tips in water and encouraged him to suck on them. His head wobbled, but he wouldn’t open his mouth. I found an eyedropper from a discarded bottle of Motherwort liquid, washed it clean, and filled it with water. Still, the kitty wouldn’t open his mouth. Maybe it couldn’t, I reasoned. Maybe it’s jaw hadn’t formed yet.
The closer I examined the little guy, it dawned on me…this isn’t a kitty cat at all. It’s a rat! “Ewwww!” I hated rats. But I had become so attached, I couldn’t let it die. I put him back in his box and called the vet.
“I found a creature in the driveway, a cat fetus I thought, but now I’m not sure, and it’s still alive. What should I do with it?”
The receptionist who answered the phone conferred with the vet, then advised me to call Animal Control. She gave me the number.
Within thirty minutes, a man in a truck pulled into the driveway. He crouched over the box and pulled back the towel.
“Well,” he said, “It’s either a rat or a squirrel.”
A squirrel! Oh, please let it be a squirrel. Even though the squirrels ate my landlady’s vegetables in the garden—the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the kale, the lettuce, the oranges from the tree, leaving the rinds on top of the fence posts, even though the squirrels gnawed on the doohickey that interfered with my TV reception—a squirrel was infinitely better than a rat.
“It’s a male,” the officer said, picking it up with bare hands. “Do you want to hold it?” I shook my head. He closed his fingers around it. “Here’s the thing. If I take it with me, it won’t stand a chance. But if we leave it in the flower bed, it might live.”
“I found it under the oak tree,” I said, and we tromped outside to the spot in the driveway. He surveyed the bed of flowers, then looked up. “Well, there’s the nest,” he said, pointing to a clump of dried leaves in a branch about twenty feet up. “Do you have a ladder?”
My landlady had one in the garage, but after setting it up, we realized it was too short. By this time, the gardener had arrived with his leaf blower and lawn mower, and on top of his truck, a ladder that extended. He offered the use of it, unsure of what we were doing but happy to contribute to the cause, and held the bottom as the officer cautiously climbed to the top. Stretching his arm, barely reaching the nest, the officer plopped the baby over the rim.
“Oh, Thank you,” I said, relief flooding my voice.
“The way I figure it,” the officer said, climbing back down. “Every creature deserves to live.”
We stood in the driveway looking up at the nest.
After he had left, and the gardener had driven away, I headed once again to the mailbox. And there, in the same spot on the driveway, the baby squirrel lay curled, still breathing. Either mommy didn’t want him, or he’d tumbled out of the nest. A good twenty foot plunge to the pavement…twice! And he’d survived. I ran to get my gloves, and moved him to a spot between two bushy flowers out of the direct sun. A couple of hours later, he was gone.
I don’t know who found it…mommy, or the crows. I hoped, prayed, that one day I’d notice a young squirrel in the backyard, a runty thing, eating the green tomatoes or the lettuce or the kale, and I would know, with great certainty, he was mine.