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Baby squirrel gets surgery and a chance to return to the wild

DETROIT, Mich. — As a veterinarian who is board-certified in ophthalmology, Dr. Susette Aquino of BluePearl Veterinary Partners has conducted many eye removal surgeries to improve the

Thelma the squirrel

Thelma the squirrel

health of cats and dogs, not to mention a guinea pig and a rabbit.

But never a squirrel. Until now.

Thelma is a squirrel, about 11 weeks old.  Her rescuers want to return her to the wild, but she suffered from glaucoma in her right eye. The eye was blind, inflamed and obviously painful. For Thelma’s health, the eye needed to be removed.

The surgery was a delicate one – partly because of Thelma’s tiny size (just under a pound) and partly because wild animals become highly stressed in hospitals. But everything went smoothly, according to Aquino.

“We were all very happy, ecstatic,” said Aquino, who performed the surgery on Tuesday with Dr. Michael West. She also credited veterinary technician Austin Fisher for his work on the difficult process of giving Thelma anesthesia and monitoring her progress. The best part, she said, was when Thelma sipped some formula after surgery – a sign she was recovering well.

Thelma undergoing anesthesia

Thelma undergoing anesthesia

Thelma’s story shows how veterinarians often take a personal interest in their patients, and show compassion for animals that others might overlook.

Thelma was one of three tiny and stranded baby squirrels. A client brought them in to Dr. Laura Witherell at Gasow Veterinary Hospital in Birmingham, Mich. Witherell  knew she had two choices: humanely euthanize the squirrels or raise them herself.

Witherell  had never tried to rescue squirrels before. But she decided to give these tiny month-old creatures a chance at life, by feeding them puppy formula and housing them in a cage she called the “squirrel condo.”  One squirrel died, but the other two – Thelma and Louise – survived.

Witherell is very pleased with the care Thelma received at BluePearl’s hospital in Southfield, and happy the two squirrels, now about 11 weeks old, are thriving. She thinks she may release them this spring near her parents’ home in rural Michigan.

“They’re wild animals, and I know it’s best for them to be out in the wild. I think they’ll be happier,” Witherell said. But after working so hard to raise them, she acknowledged, “I might be a little sad to see them go.”

 Licensed veterinary technician Michelle Gilbeau with Thelma before the surgery

Licensed veterinary technician Michelle Gilbeau with Thelma before the surgery