Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat: While this story might be appearing in the 'local news' category, this isn't exactly a typical news story.
No, this isn't about an issue or an event or a matter of public concern, but a heartwarming story of a local's adorable and slightly bewildering encounter with Whistler's native wildlife that we here in Pique's newsroom believe the community deserves to hear about.
What began as an otherwise unremarkable Monday afternoon bike ride down the Valley Trail for Jess Hewitt on Sept. 5 took a strange turn when the 35-year-old Whistler resident "nearly ran over" a tiny, baby squirrel—which, fun fact, are called kits, kittens or sometimes even pups, according to Google—lying in the middle of the paved path.
"I stopped because the squirrel didn't move out of the way, so I thought it might be injured," she recalled.
"So I put my bike down and I walked over to it and when I was about two metres away, it just ran at me and crawled right up my leg and attached itself to me."
(This is the part of the story where, full disclosure, Pique editor Braden Dupuis happened upon Hewitt standing perplexed on the trail. Naturally, he started filming the ordeal after making sure Hewitt wasn't injured. Keep scrolling for that footage!)
"I was trying to urge the squirrel to get off me, which was not very successful," she said with a laugh. "I tried that a few times and then eventually, kind of got it off me and [put it] into the bushes off the side of the path, but as soon as I walked away, it came right back at me and ran straight up me again. So yeah, we hung out there for quite a while."
Eventually, Hewitt heard an adult squirrel—its mom, she assumed—chirping from somewhere between the trees. She walked into the brush, towards the chirping noises, and decided to tuck the tiny squirrel, which at this point had fallen asleep on Hewitt ("We were bonding," she joked) into a small hollow in a tree.
"I hid quite a long way away and watched, and I saw the mom come and meet up with him again," said Hewitt. The entire experience "was super cute, but also very confusing."
It also took on a completely different tone from Hewitt's last noteworthy wildlife encounter on the Valley Trail, when she spotted a cougar travelling along the path at night this spring.
Still, Hewitt said she "had no idea" how to handle the squirrel situation. "I wasn't sure whether to leave the squirrel there, but it kept running back onto the path, or whether I should be trying to take it to a wildlife organization, but I didn't have a box, of course, so I would have been riding along the Valley Trail with a squirrel attached to me ... like, what do you do when something like this happens?"
What should you do if you find an injured or orphaned baby squirrel in B.C.?
According to the Toronto Wildlife Centre, scared or hungry baby squirrels are known to approach humans, often crawling up pant legs or sitting on shoes. Typically, however, those squirrels are orphaned, the website explains.
In the event your baby squirrel encounter doesn't have quite as happy of an ending as Hewitt's, the organization recommends placing the animal in a small cardboard box with a soft towel or T-shirt while figuring out how to find it appropriate help.
"Even on a warm day babies can get cold," the centre advises, so emergency caregivers are encouraged to give tiny squirrels a heat source to snuggle up to, like "a clean sock filled with dry, uncooked rice, and microwaved for one minute" or "a plastic bottle from the recycling bin filled with hot tap water."
The centre doesn't recommend giving the animal food or water initially, but said a chunk of apple can be offered up to provide the squirrel with some much-needed hydration and sugar.
Whistlerites who stumble across wildlife in distress can contact the Burnaby-based Wildlife Rescue Association of British Columbia's helpline at 604-526-7275, Critter Care Wildlife Society (604) 530-2064, or the BC SPCA's Provincial Call Centre at 1-855-622-7722 for advice.
Hewitt said she "was so happy" and "so proud" once she saw her new squirrel friend reunited with a family member. "You could tell mom was obviously a little bit stressed that her baby had gone AWOL, so it was really nice," she added.
"It was one of the cutest things ever. It was so soft and adorable, but it definitely ended up where it should be."