In May 2008, a wayward woodchuck made it’s way to Horse Amour. 8 year old Betsy discovered our cat circling something behind our pond, and upon investigating, found that he was stalking a tiny woodchuck. True to her nature, Betsy rescued the nearly helpless little creature, and it spent the night in a box by her bed while we researched the internet on what to do with an orphaned woodchuck. The next morning we purchased puppy milk replacer, and bananas, and the rest is history.

There are times in a true animal lover’s life, that require difficult decisions. Keeping wild animals in captivity is not only illegal, but there is a reason for that law; they do NOT make good house pets! But when the survival of a tiny, helpless creature is in your hands you have to make decisions. At the time of discovery, the baby woodchuck was still crawling, which aged her at about 5 weeks. There were no signs of woodchucks in the vicinity of discovery, so how she came to be where we found her is a mystery. Putting her back there would have been the end of her. Nursing her along became quite an adventure…

In the photo above, Dandelion had only been with us a few days. We fed her from an eye dropper, which from the start she grasped very strongly and suckled from vigorously. The eye dropper did not last long; even when only able to consume a few ounces, she had a voracious appetite. She moved quickly on to a syringe used for vacinnating horses, because her woodchuck teeth just did not work with a bottle. Before long she was eating bananas, clover, dandelions and Queen Anne’s lace. In a house with children, she was offered quite a variety of cuisine and was encouraged to follow nearly any culinary whim or curiosity. She loved sweets…thinking of all the woodchucks out there who have never know the bliss of a Milano cookie is so sad.

Dandelion was walking within a week, and within a month had adopted the charming woodchuck waddle that would be her permanent gait.

This is Dandelion in early August, at about 14 weeks of age. She is very cute as you can see, and had become willing to go outside in the grass to forage a little bit. Our heavy summer horse show schedule and her petite size and need for frequent feedings of milk, prevented us from constantly pursuing her possible desires to find a home out of doors. Her typical woodchuck skittishness of everything, and her attachment to us and her home made it become impossible. She made her home on the back porch that summer, in an old cooler with a planter on top. She also used a long PVC pipe to hide and play in. I bought an elaborate ferret habitat, however she did not care for that at all. When school started and the kids were gone during the day, I had a bit more time for Dandelion’s education, and spent hours most days taking her out. She enjoyed going to the clothesline with me, and playing under the porch when I was in the yard. But the minute I went into the house, she was on my heels if not diving through the door ahead of me.

As the nights got colder, Dandelion took up residence in the kitchen, where she found a small gap in the cupboard molding, you can see her in the photo above this one, with her head sticking out. She decided to make a “nest” in there, and took anything that caught her fancy that was not nailed down or put out of her reach. Stuffed toys, newspapers, grocery bags, the noiser the paper, the better. Every once in a while she would kick something out that she no longer wanted, and take something different in. She continued this until she grew too large to comfortablely squeeze into the hole. That became very entertaing to watch, since she continued to force her way in long past what could have been comfortable!

Although woodchucks are normally solitary creatures when not mating or raising young, Dandelion was remarkably gentle and loving. She would climb up my legs when she would find me sitting at my office desk, and insist on crawling up my lap to my face, where she would delicately groom my eyebrows and eyelashes. I never felt anything but trust during these brief, but seemingly important sessions. She would also groom my hairline, and feel my face with her little hands. She certainly knew the difference between affection and play; she was a strong and painful nipper of hands and feet during playtime, and my children probably still bear the scars from that, years later.

Dandelion had amazing little hands. As nimble as a monkeys, and as soft and leathery as can be imagined. Her feet were the same, but very elongated like a bear. She had long claws, but used them like fingers. She learned at a very young age to sit upright and eat her food with two hands while balancing on her hind legs and short tail. She had incredible balance.

As fall went on, Dandelion got fatter.

And fatter! And lazier.

Whatever do wild woodchucks do without ice cream cones? If only they knew! Dandelion would go crazy if she heard the wrapper of a Schwan’s ice cream sundae cone. And you had better give it to her, or she would take it. She would start to squeal as soon as she heard it, and the squeals would escalate to shrieks until she was handed the cone.  She devoured many of these and never left a drop or crumb.

Playtime with legs and feet. Ouch! The tail always indicated the mood. This is playful tail.

A big yawn. Then asleep in front of her plate.

So Dandelion lost her baby look, and packed on the pounds. She weighed 11 pounds during her winter with us. Her urge to go out went from somewhat interested, to absolutely NOT. After she began “nesting” or hoarding every peice of paper she could get her hands on behind to huge pallets of bit wipes in my cellar, I resigned to the fact that she would winter in the house and we would revist outdoors in the spring.

Even during the winter, Dandelion was governed by the weather. She slept most of the time, but would groggily emerge occasionally. She finally settled in a pet bed in the laundry room after several arguments about the bit wipe pallets. She still ate fairly regularly, but there were days when she remained asleep around the clock. Dark or light did not seem to matter, she would sometimes appear at my feet upstairs when I was watching tv, or she would climb up my legs when I was on the computer downstairs late at night. I’d hear her little snuffles and purrs, and she would come shuffling in. During the deepest of cold snaps, she was much less visible.

Our winter was uneventful with her, although her discovery and destruction of all of my Christmas wrapping supplies attested to the fact that she was about at times that the family was asleep. I hoped that the adventurous attitude would lead to her going out and becoming a “real” woodchuck in the spring.

In the spring of 2009, I began to think that she (Dandelion) might be a "he", due to the appendages developing in the posterior area and the musky smell around the head. Dandelion spent much time rubbing his head on doorways and favorite areas, which looked like marking behavior usually seen in males of all species. I made a supreme effort during the month of April to get Dandelion outside. I left the basement ground level window open, despite freezing my family and running up our fuel bill, so that Dandelion could come and go as he pleased. He rarely went, but did enjoy sitting in the window gazing out and sniffing the air-- you could see him experiencing the call of nature, however he would generally scurry back in quickly. When we went to an activity one Sunday, we left very early and Dandelion was still sleeping behind the dryer, I left the window open as usual and did not return until nearly dark. Dandelion was nowhere to be found. I walked all around the house, and didn't find him. The next morning, no Dandelion. Betsy went to school with a sad face-- Dandelion had never disappeared other than one nearly fateful fall into the outhouse. When I went up to the barn to do chores, there sat Dandelion on a old woodchuck excavation next to our dressage ring! Overjoyed, I went up and greeted Dandelion, who was quite happy to see me and groomed my hairline while chuffing his approval. But very dirty and busy with his excavation, he let me know in his way that he had no intention of leaving the burrow. He did not finish any of the tidbits I brought him later. Within a few days, Dandy vacated that perfect location to move up into the hedgerow northwest of the barn, at the edge of the property. Less thrilled with that location, I went up faithfully to visit and found evidence of an entire colony of woodchucks. This may well be where Dandy came from... On my last visit Dandelion gratefully accepted a honey bun, only to eat a few bites and cast it away. He was chattering and chuffing continuously, and wagging his tail like a dog. He talked and talked to me, but did not want to be picked up, and was obviously very busy-- rubbing against all the little stalks and rocks around his new burrow under a dead log. That was the first week of May. I have not seen Dandelion for several days now, although I look almost daily. After spending nearly a year looking after this little creature, I can say that I do miss him and worry about his welfare. It is my dream come true that he would not only go about the business of being a woodchuck, but that he would join a colony of woodchucks in a safe place. Will he come back when the male wanderlust ebbs away? Who's to know-- but whenever I see a woodchuck darting into the hedgerow I feel a little thrill for Dandelion, the little woodchuck that once lived in our house. And I'm still leaving that window open...

Addendum: Dandelion came back to living in the area of the barn and dressage arena at the end of May. He visited nearly daily, for a bit of domestic food and socialization. He was terribly skinny, and covered in scabs from probable fights with other male 'chucks. He was happy though. There are days when he was not visible, and I knew one day I wouldn't see him again. But when I see a woodchuck and yell “Dandelion, is that you?” and it pauses, I have hope.

Dandelion was an amazing little creature that enhanced the lives of my children and I, a wonder of nature! If I had called the Game Warden, Dandelion would likely have been disposed of, since the state considers woodchucks to be “nuisance animals”. I cannot say that they make good house pets and I would never “want” another one, but they are clean, smart, tough and comical little creatures that my girls and I will always see in a different light than before we knew Dandelion...

junPo© Sue Cook 2015