By Ann Dirgni
It was a beautiful spring day in May – very clear, very soft. I was
feeding “the kids” (my name for the orphaned and injured wildlife who
get dropped off with me in the spring). Then the doorbell rang, and
there they were in full uniform – the DEC police, the God Squad.
“We have a report that you are caring for a baby squirrel.” “Yes
that’s what I do,” I answered, trying to hide any surprise and fear. You
see, I hadn’t gotten my paperwork in for the license renewal due to all
the animals that had to be cared for. I had cleared it, though, with the
“Special Licensing Unit” of the NYS Department of Environmental
Conservation (DEC). They assured me that everything was in order and to
send in the paperwork when I could.
“Your license is no longer valid,” he said. “I can issue you a
“I cleared it with the licensing unit.”
“Produce the license.”
“I can only produce last year’s license,” holding back my
“Do you have a squirrel?”
“Bring it out.”
I didn’t have a baby squirrel. I had three, plus a whole lot of other
animals. I also knew they wanted me to be afraid, very afraid, and I was
– not for myself, but for the animals. So the game had begun – “Wildlife
Poker.” Only the game isn’t played with cards but lives.
It was my move. I told myself to buy time by bluffing. “Sure I’ll
bring him out.” I showed no visible fear. I rushed into the room and
tried to hide everyone in the closet (it was stupid but I felt it was
the only choice). Oh God, the carrier wouldn’t fit! (Hands now shaking)
Please God. It was in.
Do you know this terror? The terror that comes from the possible
murder of loved ones? So I have to pick a squirrel. Which one? The
weakest? The strongest? Who is most likely to survive THEM? My babies
were all so little. I hated myself for not being able to protect the
little ones. I had raised them since they were blind and hairless. My
face is the only face they know. I cannot choose! “Forgive me little
one, I love you,” words I believed somehow were understood. If there’s a
god for squirrels, help us now. I choose the strongest; perhaps they’ll
let him go.
Not acknowledging the delay. “He’s a cute little fellow, how old?”
“Four weeks. His eyes recently opened and he’s starting to eat
alone.” (Will he understand that Hook is too young to die?) Will they
care about Hook? Will they let him live? Hook hangs on to me like a
precious jewel. These are my most precious jewels. I desperately search
for last year’s paperwork, but my husband’s assistant has misplaced it.
The officer is watching me, but I’m no longer afraid – blessed relief
flows over me. Hook and I are one as he clings to his soulmate’s neck.
They will take him over my dead body.
The officer finally said, “Okay, you get your ’95 license. Keep the
squirrel for now, but I’ll be back.”
I kiss my little one over and over, feeling ashamed that I would turn
him over. Why didn’t I tell them to go to hell? I vow never again to be
Today, my license is enlarged to poster size and taped to my door. I
carry the original in my wallet. I have ripped up a copy on local cable
TV here for a program in which I’ve exposed the DEC for what I know them
to be. I am a warrior for wildlife: a wildlife warrior. I like that. I
consider it a privilege to be a part of the wildlife community. I thank
them for choosing me.
ANN DIRGNI IS A NYS LICENSED WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR. SHE SAVES
HUNDREDS OF WILD ANIMALS ANNUALLY AT HER OWN EXPENSE WITHOUT HELP FROM
THE GAME AGENCY. SHE HAS STARTED HER OWN ORGANIZATION CALLED “WILDLIFE
WARRIORS – WLWA” POB 553, NEW YORK CITY, NY.