- Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine
From Aerospace Engineer to Rescuing Squirrels
Doug Walker is a retired electrical engineer who worked in the aerospace industry for 30 years. He retired in 2011…and then what happened? A little golf, hiking and reading…and volunteering for the Napa Wildlife Rescue Center and caring for squirrels!
“The goal is to return injured or orphan squirrels to their native habitat,” explained Doug. “Squirrels need rescuing for several reasons. Some are hit by a car, tree trimming or tree removal and some are caught by a cat or dog.”
How It All Began
Doug started five years ago taking care of baby songbirds at the Song Bird Clinic in Yountville. He later heard about squirrel care and thought it would be fun to work with mammals.
Phase One requires assist feeding when squirrels are very young and have to be hand held and fed a milk formula using a syringe.
The squirrels come to Doug in the second phase of rehab, the Pre-release Phase. This phase is less hands-on where you build a cage and provide food, like nuts, corn, mushrooms and fruit. The squirrel at this point is self-feeding.
The Pre-release Stage lasts about 5 weeks, and at the end of this period, squirrels are old enough to be released into the wild. A safe place is selected, away from cars, with a food and water source. The squirrels are taken there and released.
First Doug had to build a cage for the squirrels, costing $500-$600 each. They are made of 40 - 2x4 planks, plus wire cloth or wire screen with ½ inch holes. He paid for the cage himself and considered it a donation to the rescue center.
Doug waited for the big day when he would get his first “tenant,” a Western Gray squirrel. The first few minutes in his new cage, the young squirrel was excited by his new freedom, running everywhere and climbing on the branches installed in the cage, hopping from one branch to another. Soon he settled in and started playing with the other squirrels in the cage.
“Sometimes squirrels from different litters are combined together in a pre-release cage to prevent a single growing up alone,” explained Doug. “They need one another to learn from and for company. A single squirrel can become attached to his human caretaker whom is to be avoided.”
Last year Napa Wildlife Rescue had 90 squirrel releases. “If the rescue team people were not here, 90 squirrels would not have survived.”
What’s the Payoff?
“Since the 70s, the world has lost 50% of its wildlife!” exclaimed Doug. “Rescue work makes you feel like you are doing something useful. It makes you feel goodabout yourself.”
“Squirrels give us pleasure and plant nuts which grow into trees. We need to take care of our wildlife because we are connected to all living things in ways that we understand and in ways that we don’t yet understand.”
This is Doug’s fourth year with the squirrels. He feeds them a few times a day, and watches them play. “It is good to keep some distance,” he added. “You don’t want them to overcome their fear of people. When they go on the outside, you want them to be afraid of people.”
About Napa Wildlife Rescue
Napa Wildlife Rescue supports and advocates for wildlife for sustainable and healthy eco-systems in Napa County for present and future generations. It’s all volunteer and they are always looking for new volunteers. Volunteer work includes rehabilitation, education, community outreach and partnerships.
How You Can Help
In September and October, you can collect walnuts! The center always needs walnuts. If you own walnut trees, you can invite volunteers to collect nuts on your property. Also, you can donate building materials for new squirrel cages.
Become a Volunteer
Generally when people volunteer, they begin in the bird clinic. You receive training and work a four-hour shift once a week. Once you work there for a season, if you want to work with other animals, you can work with possums, squirrels, hawks, owls, foxes and deer.
Besides caring for squirrels, Doug has written two training manuals. One is How to Raise Orphan Squirrels and the other is How to Build a Squirrel Cage, in sections for easy dismantling. He has also presented at Napa Valley College to recruit volunteers to Napa Wildlife Rescue.
Doug and all of his fellow dedicated workers at Napa Wildlife Rescue Center are appreciated for all they are doing for the animal kingdom and our community.
You can support or volunteer to help wildlife animals, including squirrels.
For more information about Napa Wildlife Rescue, visit napawildliferescue.org.