What do you get when you combine a senior citizen, a veterinarian, a mansion and a varmint? Chaos and conquest.
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The bannister was a work of art. Made of mesquite wood from the family ranch, it framed the stairs to the third floor. I was amazed at the degree of craftsmanship that had gone into building this masterpiece, but the focus of my visit to this house was not to admire the bannister.
I was there to catch the critter that currently sat on the horizontal segment of the bannister on the second floor. Perched on its hind legs with its tail arched into an upside-down U was a squirrel munching on a peanut it had stolen from the kitchen table.
The wealthy 80-year-old woman who lived in this beautiful ranch home was Mrs. Blades. Her husband had died a few months earlier so she lived in the mansion alone. She was as agile as a cat and clever as can be, but she was no match for this squirrel. The creature had somehow gotten in the house that morning and Mrs. Blades had been trying all day to get it back in the yard.
It was five o'clock and I was winding down my clinic day when the phone rang. Mrs. Blades addressed me with a tone that was somewhere between embarrassed and angry. She hated to call a veterinarian for such a trivial thing, she said, but she couldn't stand the thought of having to go to bed with a “furry monster” running all over the place.
Mrs. Blades didn't want to kill the squirrel, she said. She figured I could tranquilize it with a dart gun and then let it wake up outside. She was very kind and told me she would pay whatever I usually charged for a ranch call if I would come and help her on my way home.
All I could think was … how the heck am I going to catch a squirrel? I can't shoot it with a dart gun-those things are made to shoot cows and would blow a squirrel to pieces, not to mention what it would do to anything in the house that got hit by accident. I didn't really have a plan, but I told Mrs. Blades I would be there soon and we would get the critter back outside.
When I arrived at the ranch, I sized things up and told Mrs. Blades to open the front door and close the kitchen door. I stationed her in the hallway next to the stairs that led to the rest of the house, hoping she could head the critter off if it turned back. My plan was simple: I'd chase the animal until it discovered the doorway and decided that going outside would be better than having a screaming veterinarian chase it around.
I headed up the stairs at a casual pace, knowing there was no place up there that offered a hiding place. As I approached the rascal, he assumed the sprinter's position and focused on me with both eyes. The closer I got, the lower he crouched. When I was about six feet away, he took off like a shot up the bannister, so fast I could barely keep my eyes on him. I picked up my pace, hoping to get behind him and head him back down to the sunshine of the open door.
The squirrel had other plans. He beat me to the top and leapt from the rail. A short hall with three closed doors left him no avenue for escape, so back to the bannister he went. He passed me coming up while he was headed down. He simply kept running at the same speed, now clinging to the away side of the bannister as he passed me. Great, I thought, this is exactly what I was hoping for. I turned and started heading down as fast as I could go, all the while making loud noises that I hoped would prompt him to head straight for the great outdoors.
No such luck. He seemed to like the bannister. When he got to the bottom, he simply made a 180-degree turn, like a swimmer starting the second lap, and headed back upstairs. I tried discouraging his choice of direction by heavy arm waving and more hollering.
My efforts didn't phase him. He simply buzzed by me, clinging to the off-side of the bannister and headed back to the third floor. I, of course, turned and chased him up again. At the top, he did the same swimmer spin and headed back down. This went on for four circuits until it became terribly apparent that the squirrel liked the air-conditioned house with its lifetie supply of peanuts and had no immediate plans to go outside.
I am again standing on the ground floor looking up, and the squirrel has resumed his position on the horizontal bannister on the second floor, balanced on his back legs with his tail in a U. Mrs. Blades, now standing next to me, explained how she had spent the entire day trying to get him off that bannister.
When she asked where my dart gun was, I tried to explain that the dart would blow the squirrel to bits and I might hit one of her paintings if I missed. A hopeless look came over her face as she asked what in the heck we were going to do.
I needed a net. Of all the things I had packed from the clinic a net was not one of them. I asked Mrs. Blades to get me a broom, a pillow case, a wire coat hanger, a role of duct tape and a pair of pliers. She returned in a few minutes with all the items and a smile.
I fashioned the coat hanger into a circle then taped the pillow case to the circle to make an open-mouthed “net” of sorts. I then took the hook part of the newly formed net, taped it strongly to the handle of the broom and, voilà, a homemade squirrel net!
Mrs. Blades was giggling and whispering, almost as though if she said aloud what we were doing the squirrel would be onto us. I told her I would hide on the off side of the bannister on the ground floor and she should go up the stairs and make the critter make another lap.
Tension mounted as she ambled up the steps toward the sprinter-stanced squirrel. When I took my position behind the china cabinet and waited, I found myself shaking with nervous anticipation as the sound of her going up the stairs echoed over my head.
I could hear the commotion start as she and the squirrel hit the top floor. She hollered down, “He's headed your way and I'm hot on his tail!”
I peeked around the cabinet just as they both headed down to the first floor. Mrs. Blades was moving fast, and I mean fast. She was keeping up with the squirrel, which meant he was staying on the off side of the bannister.
Like a ninja, I swung the homemade net and captured that rascal on the first pass. He jumped into the air as he saw it coming, but my correction was just enough to confine him in the homemade cloth closet. I then spun the thing a few turns leaving him no escape portal.
Mrs. Blades and I high-fived for a few minutes in celebration of our victory. We then took the pillowcase outside and unrolled it a few spins. Our elusive squirrel saw daylight and immediately headed straight up the closest tree.
We laughed together for a while as we rehashed our cleverness, and I complimented Mrs. Blades on her speed coming down those stairs. Of course, I didn't charge her for a ranch call. I didn't charge her a thing. But a week later, a 10-pound sack of gourmet peanuts, three roles of duct tape, a brand new broom, a set of three pillow cases, a set of wire coat hangers and a gift certificate to a local steakhouse were delivered to the clinic with a note that read: Just in case you ever need to catch a squirrel again … Thanks! Mrs. Blades.
Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America.