Woman has saved thousands of squirrels


Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 10:24 p.m.

Vickie Dennis lives for her animals.

Her story begins almost 26 years ago in May 1983 when she heard high-pitched screaming in the backyard from inside her Newberry home.

A tiny, pink baby squirrel had fallen from a nearby tree. She named him Kirby and nursed him to maturity before releasing him.

Since that day, people bring Dennis abandoned squirrels to raise, and she can never say no.

"I will raise anything," she said. "It breaks my heart to see any animal helpless."

Since Kirby, Dennis said she has rescued and raised more than 4,000 abandoned or handicapped squirrels.

Those that are raised back to health are returned to the wild, and those that can't survive on their own stay in large cages in Dennis' backyard.

Right now, Dennis has 76 unreleasable squirrels.

She has named every single squirrel she has cared for, even if it is just for six months - the typical amount of time a baby squirrel needs before it's released back into the wild.

Kirby was her first, but Stephanie was raised inside and even went on vacations with Dennis and her husband.

Pugs had a broken nose and only one tooth. His squished face made him look and sound like a Pug, Dennis said. "He was a rarity," Dennis said. "Pugs would let anyone hold him."

Samantha Jane lives in a cage inside Dennis' home these days. She was raised alone and doesn't know she is a squirrel, Dennis conjectures.

Chase was injured by a hawk. He is 11 years old and lives indoors in a cage.

Dennis said she thinks her handicapped squirrels know they must rely on her for survival and that is why they do not bite her or try to run away.

Healthy squirrels are territorial animals. When they reach sexual maturity, they become aggressive, Dennis said.

"It's like keeping humans in jail when they have never committed a crime," Dennis said. "They deserve to run wild and free."

But Dennis admits to crying her eyes out whenever it is time to release one of her "babies."

"I am an animal lover if there ever was one," Dennis said. "I am a vegetarian because of my love for animals."

Dennis was never able to have children, but she has taken care of thousands of squirrels as if they were her own, she said.

"With my squirrels, I am Mom," she said.

Dennis bottle-feeds baby squirrels, or what she calls "the pinkies," every two hours for the first 12 weeks of their lives.

At only a couple of days old, their lives are very fragile. Baby squirrels must be kept warm at all times.

Dennis has heating pads, beds and special formula for the baby squirrels, and she buys as many shelled nuts as possible for her unreleasable, handicapped squirrels.

Dennis has become friends with local Publix employees because of the large quantity of unshelled nuts she buys every year.

During these past 26 years, Dennis said she could not have successfully saved all the squirrels she has without the help of compassionate neighbors and doctors at the Newberry Animal Hospital.

"I can't thank them enough," Dennis said. "They are sent by God."

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