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Sometimes You Just Have to Break The Rules

Lucky Garvin
Lucky Garvin

I should begin by explaining that, in my fifteen years of working with wildlife, baby groundhogs, because of their sweet, engaging dispositions are among my favorite critters [with Mourning Doves close behind.]

As rehabbers, we are sternly warned against overly doting on our wards, thus making them more ‘pets’ than patients. Although I have always rigorously followed it and always will, the rule, I think, is unrealistic, because although certain birds, owls and ravens may ‘imprint’ on a human thus seeing them as family, most animals and birds ultimately answer the call of nature to go back to a ‘wild’ or human-avoidant state.

But, a rule is a rule… unless you break it.

And I did, two nights ago.

Our first three groundhog babies this season, orphans, came to us frightened but well nourished.  My Sabrina would voice a prayer to their parents, “You done good; we’ll take it from here.”

The next three g’hog babies came in sick; nasal congestion. We’ve seen this before. Unfortunately, although sniffles in a human-being  usually indicates a short-lived viral annoyance, in mammals and birds it may pre-sage death as the microbes invade to lungs and deny proper, life supporting breathing.

Two of them died almost immediately despite our frenzied efforts. The third one hung on. Apparently near death he was, breathing too rapidly, too lethargic to eat, I administered hydration via a syringe just under the skin. His body would absorb it into his general circulation. We put oxygen on him to make each feeble breathe more effective. If forced, he would take in a mouthful of food every two hours, most of which he regurgitated. For the most part, he lay on his blanket immobile, too weak to rise. Likely he had caught that fatality which had taken his two brothers; and now, he too, lay there dying…

His fate seemed certain. Some instinct told me that, just this once, the rules must stand down; so I broke them.

I knew g’hogs are very social, so late that night after Sabrina had gone to bed, I lifted him out of his small confining box, and took him with me to the next room, and there, for the next two hours, we watched TV.  [Well to be honest, he didn’t show much interest in the evening news, so I set the volume low and set him center on my chest.]

I felt a tightness in him, his respiratory rate was too fast, so while he lay there, I began a soft cooing, and used my thumbs, ever so gently, to stroke him over his eyes and along his ears. I prayed for him, and became aware that his tension was easing. He stared at me, but there is more.

Through my tee-shirt, he took in my scent, and the ‘lubdub; of my heart, as well as my body heat and quiet breathing. My voice came softly, calmly, re-assuringly to his ear. As I watched, his eyes became lid-heavy, and he lapsed into a deep, needful, healing sleep. So there we sat, one old man and one very young, very sick groundhog.

Love is love, be its object two-legged, four-legged, furred or feathered. I am well aware that most people regard groundhogs with contempt, or at least with indifference. My response to that is: get your federal license, raise a few, then we will talk.

Ask anyone how many groundhogs there are in the world, the answer will likely come back, “I don’t know, maybe a scadzillion, more or less.”


That night, there was but one, and he now deeply slept under my chin. He was my charge, he had crossed my path. Thus it was my bounden duty to do for him what I could, little as my efforts might prove to be. It was no different when I practiced medicine: the opportunity to cure was more rare by far than the opportunity for me to comfort, the latter always available.

His ultimate fate is as yet unknown – whose fate among us is? – ; but the next morning he was head-up, fully awake in his cage with a ravenous appetite. I was given the credit for the turn-around. “How did you do it!?”  I gave no response, but I knew the truth of it:

I had broken the rules…

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed; Campfire Tales; Sabonics

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