If you love two squirrels, set them free

Peanut enjoys a final snack on the shoulders of columnist Scott DeSmit before being released back into the wild. It was one of two squirrels Scott and his daughter rehabilitated from injury.

For a few moments I felt like Tony Soprano as I stood in the quiet woods.

The birds were chirping. The sun was gleaming. A light cool breeze fluttered the leaves in the trees above me.

“Boys?” I called out. “You around?”

I held by my breath and listened intently, hoping to hear the gentle rustle in the thick undergrowth or the scuttling of claws on branches.

Nothing.

I shook a bag of sunflower seeds. I rattled the cage.

“Boys?”

Sigh.

You raise them to near manhood and this is how they repay you. They fly the coop. Cut the apron strings.

Yes, I am suffering from empty nest syndrome.

As you may recall, I have been raising two baby squirrels since my cartoon dog Rosie discovered them in the yard.

Peanut and Coco grew up in a cage in my daughter Jenna’s room and for the last three weeks have been living in the cage in a secluded corner of my property, surrounded by trees and shrubs and nature.

They were acclimated to the sounds of the outdoors and the terrifying night sounds of coyotes howling and raccoons chattering.

It was time for them to be free.

The plan was to release them last Friday morning.

I hesitated.

“Let’s do it tomorrow,” I told Jenna.

Saturday came and I decided I was too busy to release the squirrels.

“We’ll do it tomorrow,” I said.

Father’s Day. How appropriate.

Jenna and I gathered some treats for the boys, slices of apple and sweet potato, and off we went to the cage.

The boys were restless and a bit skittish, more so after three weeks of limited contact with them.

“OK boys, it’s time to be free,” I said as I opened the cage door.

Coco, at least we think it was Coco because it had gotten so hard to tell, stood still.

Peanut, at least we think it was Peanut, hung by the door, waiting for me to push him back in and slam the door shut.

When I didn’t, he slowly poked his head out and then leaped onto my stomach and made his way to my shoulder, where he enjoyed his treat, pieces flying onto my neck and head.

Coco remained inside the cage.

After he was done eating, Peanut leaped onto the cage and onto a tree limb and up he went.

We left Coco in the cage and walked back to the house. Eventually he, too, crawled out of the cage and disappeared into the trees.

The theory is this: The squirrels should return at dusk to sleep in the cage, at least for a few days or a week.

Close the door at night and open it again in the morning until they no longer come back.

So that night I walked back to the cage at sunset and found it empty.

“Boys!”

I rattled the cage and shook the food and listened.

Nothing.

I went back to the cage a dozen times Sunday night.

They never came back, preferring to remain completely free. Or, they were eaten by owls.

Happily, they weren’t prey. The next day Coco returned and hung around off and on through the day.

I saw both of them together once but mostly it was Coco, at least I think it was Coco, who would return in the morning and sometimes late in the afternoon to fetch treats I would leave him on top of the cage.

I also put a feeder farther into the woods, full of black sunflower seeds and nuts.

The feeder was emptied in less than two days.

Every day I walked back and called for the boys and hung my head when they didn’t appear and lit up when one did.

Tony Soprano, tough mafia guy, had ducks in his swimming pool. He would get in, sometimes fully dressed, and swim with the ducks and feed them and when they didn’t return he sank into depression and had a lot of people murdered.

Or something like that.

Me?

I won’t kill anyone but I will continue to go into the woods, in hopes that Peanut and Coco will visit. I will keep filling the feeder and a water dish and leave treats out and panic every time I hear an owl hoot or a hawk screech above the house.

Such is the life of a squirrel father.

Scott DeSmit is a general assignment reporter for The Daily News and vows never ever to hunt squirrels again. He can be reached at desmitmail@yahoo.com.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1