"As long as children remain heartless," is how one child's story ends. That thought was brought home to me at the age of ten, when I rescued a diminutive young rodent from my own homicidal hands.
On the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, the best playground was a stretch of prairie, practically in my back yard. Summers were spent roaming around in what at first appeared to be miles of miles of nothing but miles and miles. I spent my summers roaming around in this vast and intriguing place. I had quite a collection of fossils from ancient animals, small lizards and arrowheads. One day, my friends and I went in search of a pollywog pond I had found earlier. With rudimentary scientific knowledge obtained by then, we knew they would soon turn into frogs. Suddenly, we found a mound with a hole in the middle of it. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of some animal jumping in to it. I couldn't be sure what it was, but I wanted to find out. I called to my friends to help investigate. When we came upon the mound, nothing could be seen to give us a clue as to what animal it contained.
All of us had buckets for our intended collection of pollywogs. There was also a pond near by. We decided to fill our buckets up with water, pour it down the hole and see what came out. We congratulated ourselves for the clever way we thought of to satisfy our curiosity. We began to pour water down the hole and suddenly, strange squeaking animals started scrambling out. We squealed with delight and thought we could catch one of them. They ran every which way and so did we. This got us nowhere. I decided to go back to the hole to stand guard lest the animals returned. I saw some movement and bent down. Suddenly, I saw this diminutive baby animal trying with all it's might to climb out of it's home and gasping for breath. I was overwhelmed with guilt from the sudden awareness that we had destroyed some animals' home. I quickly scooped this pathetic looking creature up into my hand, dried it off with my shirt, put it in my bucket and ran home. I knew Mom would know what to do.
Mom was always prepared for what I may bring home from my travels. When she saw the animal, identified as a ground squirrel or gopher, she said that it was a baby that probably had not been weaned from it's mom. My heart sunk. It's mom was off to the four corners of the earth by now because I had provided the great flood with no ark. Mom immediately went to work warming cream and sugar, her cure all for ailing animals, and fed the ground squirrel via an eye dropper. I was delighted to see it had a healthy appetite. After the feeding, I picked it up in my hand and started to gently stoke it. Soon, it was asleep.
For the first time, I was able to take a good look at this creature. It was gray and brown in color with a white patch on it's tail tip. We decided to call it Tippy. An appropriate name for such a small animal with a white-tipped tail. We had no clue as to it's gender, but I decided it was a girl. It was too cute to be a boy! She emitted small beeping sounds. Soon, we would recognize what some the sounds meant. We located an old bird cage in the garage and loaded it up with some grass, a blanket, water and a clock. I heard once that a clock kept baby animals calm and kept them from being lonely for it's mom. It just kept this one awake. The clock was out. Tippy soon became part of the family. She was very affectionate and simply adorable. She liked to be held in someone's hand and stoked almost as much as she liked to get on our shoulders and nibble at our ears.
In July we moved -- back east -- to New York state, by car. Tippy went with us and had the enviable position in the front seat. At restaurant stops we always brought back lettuce, bits of tomato, bread crumbs and milk shakes for Tippy. It was hot that summer and soon we initiated another routine to our stops. We made sure we wetted a napkin with cool water because when Tippy became hot, she would sit on her haunches with her tiny paws around her now ample tummy and beep rapidly. She always calmed down when we wiped her down with the cooling napkin.
Dad fashioned a leash and a collar for her so we could take her for walks whenever we stopped to stretch our legs near empty fields. We thought it would remind her of home. It became apparent that we became objects of curiosity as cars would slow down wondering what a child would have at the end of a moving leash.
Once in New York, Tippy settled down into a bigger and better home. Dad built a large cage with wood and chicken wire. After school we would take Tippy out for a walk. Some school friends thought we had a neat pet and often went with us. Evidently Tippy enjoyed the great out doors and soon attempted escape several times by pushing her nose against the gate. This resulted in an abrasion of the bridge of her nose. Dad, who by this time had his degree in Psychology, thought that behavior modification techniques may dissuade Tippy from bumping up against her gate.
He obtained a battery and wired the chicken wire to send a small electrical current. When Tippy nosed the gate, she would learn that it was inappropriate behavior and would stop. In one way, it worked. Unknown to all of us, Mom had put vaseline on her nose.
Her funeral was held in our back yard attended by our family and a few close friends. After thirty-five years, one can still see a faded carved rock with the words:
"Here lies Tippy.
She will be missed.
This is a true story about an animal that I grew to appreciate. She taught me to have respect for nature and animals.