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Thread: Helen is in Her House

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    Default Helen is in Her House

    On Tuesday the 9th I returned to Helenís release site, two weeks after her release. I had brought approximately 10-15 lbs of nuts with me to that original release hoping that we could bury this endowment together as she explored her new environment. That day she never touched a single one of these nuts. That day, after she reluctantly went to sleep in her new home at about 4 pm, I began to bury some of those many nuts. I buried all of the pecans and black walnuts and about half of the hickory nuts, which were by far the most numerous. I left the remaining hickory nuts for her to bury, to provide her food and to bond her to her new location. Those nuts that I didnít bury I put together on the ground in groups of five so that I would be able have some notion of the activity that had occurred when I subsequently returned.

    When I returned on Tuesday I began talking to announce my presence to Helen even before I got to the base of her tree. I have always tried not to surprise her, to startle her. I saw no sight of her, nor did I hear any movement as I approached.

    This is what I found on the 9th: A massive pile of cracked hickory nuts, along with a handful of pecans, though not a single black walnut shell. I had raked out all of the leaves in a 10í by 10í area at the base of the tree where I had placed her house. So, all of the pieces of debris that you see are pieces of shell. In addition, it appeared that most of the various nuts that I had buried had been dug up. I did not locate a single whole nut. I donít think what I saw on the ground represented all of the nuts that had been endowed, half at most. She may have relocated some of the nuts but it is also possible that other resident squirrels have pilfered the sum total of her endowment.

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    My conclusion was that I did not think that a single squirrel, Helen, could crack that many nuts, given the thickness of the shell of a hickory nut and the wear and tear on the incisor that that would impose, in two weeks time. I became concerned that Helen might have been pushed out of the location where I had placed her house, which would be really serious, given the overnight temperatures and rain.

    I decided to have a closer look at her house. When I left two weeks prior I had pulled down the rope that I had used to climb the tree. The first time I climbed the tree, I set protection as I went, but that turned out to be a dubious, difficult affair. This time I decided to set the rope by tossing a weighted line over a higher limb. While this proved safer it proofed to be far easier ďsaid than doneĒ. Repeatedly I either missed the target window or the line got snagged on other smaller intervening limbs. I finally was able to get the line over a solid limb 25 feet up, but the weighted string line got snagged on a piece of bark and when I pulled to retrieve the string line, it snapped, leaving the weight, a soft ball with a screw eye set in it, dangling in the tree.

    I had proceeded calmly for the first dozen plus attempts to set the weighted line up in the tree. At this point I lost my cool. So close, yet so far. It seemed so improbable, so whimsical, so unkind.

    I found a rock and attached the remaining string to it. Once again after a couple of tosses I managed to get the rock over the target limb. This time the string got snagged on the small piece string and the softball that were already dangling up in the tree. Once again the string snapped. I began to mutter about the vagaries of the universe.

    Eventually I did get the climbing rope set up and over the target limb and was able to ascend the rope to more closely inspect Helenís house. I continued to talk out loud. Once again I saw no sign of Helen, nor did I hear any movement. I did see some pieces of empty hickory shells in one of the houseís porches where I had left some cracked hickory nuts on her release day. I saw some scratches on the house that might have been new, or they might not be. All of the paper towels that had been placed in one of the porches on release day were no where to be seen, presumably they had been taken into the house, hopefully.

    I became more worried by the lack of any definitive sign of her current presence.

    I put some more food in one porch, including a Tupperware lid that had been one of her food dishes all of her life. I wanted to provide her food but was also concerned that it might draw unwanted attention.

    Before I left the site on Tuesday I planted a few pecan seedlings and a bunch of apple seeds. I left with a heart heavy with worry and a mind full of unanswered questions.

    Foremost, how would I definitively determine whether or not she was still there? If she was being reclusive, cautious, how would I obtain indirect evidence of her presence?

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    I returned to the site on Thursday, the 11th, two days later. This time, with the idea that she might have been pushed out of the by other resident squirrels, as I hiked up I periodically stopped to loudly call out her name and then listened for a few seconds. I did this every couple of hundred feet. No response.

    I continued to talk as I approached the site. When I got the base of her tree I began to smile and call out typical praise phrases to her. On the ground was her food dish, a few pieces of zucchini (I had left her a small, whole one) and two or three pieces of asparagus, and no sign of the carrot. The shallow water bowl was empty. However, who had eaten these things remained unclear.

    Still, I saw no sign, nor sound of her presence.

    Once again I ascended the rope to have a closer look. I had previously decided that the next visit after this current one that I would remove the roof of the house and look inside to see whether a squirrel had resided there for a day or two, or up to the current point in time.

    This would be no easy measure given that the roof weighs 20 lbs and is 34Ē x 19Ē and the shingles protrude around the perimeter for proper rain drip off. I decided to prepare some napkins that I would cut in a unique way so that I could distinguish these new napkins from any napkins that might already be in the house. Also, one scenario that I entertained was that another squirrel might be pilfering paper from Helenís house and taking it back to their nest.

    By this point in time I had already been perched beside her house for 10-15 minutes as I began to cut up some napkins. I began to reach into the porch and push each napkin up to the second level of the porch. I had already placed three quarters of the napkins when I heard a quiet whine. I questioned whether I actually heard it or imagined it, misconstruing some other sound. I sat there pondering, but then I began to smile from ear to ear and call out joyfully to her in the silly sing-song voices we use with children. I gleefully thought to myself, ĎNo, I know that whine.í Still there was no further sound.

    I opened my small day pack and fished around for the segment of avocado and a spoon. I put a piece of avocado on the spoon and extended it up to second level of the porch. A couple of seconds later, a pair of claws appeared and gripped the spoon and in the shadows a mouth picked up the avocado. I could hear the chewing. Rather quickly, quite hungrily, eagerly, piece by piece, the avocado was eaten. A few pieces dropped to the porchís first floor and I picked these up with my fingers and presented these to the critter above and they were eaten from my fingertips. I was able to pet a clawed foot a time or two. She remained on the second level, occasionally front paws reached down for a morsel on the first floor, but the hind limbs remained on the second level.

    The cynic in me wondered if it was really her, but then I reminded myself that it had been two weeks since we had seen each other last. Secondly, shortly before I had spent more than an hour throwing objects toward her house. Thrown objects or forceful, quick movements had almost always caused her to bolt and hide, even if not occurring close to her. Thirdly, there was my sharp, angry outburst as the weighted line had gotten stuck. Such things always caused fear to rise in her, even if the anger was not directed at her. Fourthly, she would likely still be confused about why I had left her out in the woods, far, far from where she had lived. Fifthly, she might well be angry at me for having abandoned her. Sixth, she might fear that I would try to take her back inside. Seventh, maybe she was pregnant. She might possibly have already given birth. (I regard this as relatively unlikely.) Eighth, the wild and its potential hazards had taught her caution in this environment, bringing her wild instincts of self preservation and wariness to full bloom.

    I asked myself: ĎWhat wild squirrel would let a total stranger get that close before bolting in full-on, full-speed fear?í ĎWhat wild squirrel would eat food from a strangerís hand?í ĎA wild squirrel might have voiced warning calls as a stranger approached.í

    I knew that whine. I was intimately familiar with it. It meant, ĎI am annoyed. Iím upset. Thatís not fair. Please stop.í However, it is a sound derived from familiarity, from long-standing relationship, a profound bond. There is absolutely no full-on, primal fight-or-flight aggression attached to it. This was the sound she made when I went to take away a nut from her when she had managed to snatch up two or three from her treat box or gotten a really large one. Or when I tried to sleep in my own bed which she decided was now her bed.

    After she had eaten her full, which was quite a lot, I left some more durable food that she might eat over the next couple of days. I hadnít seen her that hungry since she was a rapidly growing juvenile. Also, she rarely ate much of anything in the later afternoon, raising another point of concern.

    Normally, in my care, as an adult, she would eat a morsel or two then resume running, leaping, and playing. It would take her a while to finish a meal. I saw many acorns on the ground. That was one of the main reasons that I had chosen that particular location. However, I hadnít seen any empty acorn husks around the base of her tree. Maybe she was reluctant to venture out of the house, or maybe she just missed the foods that she used to eat and was tired of the limited variety of a wild diet waiting for the splurge of springís growth.

    I concluded that on Tuesday she had probably been inside the house the whole time I was there. Dang.

    Given her reluctance to show herself, I had no good way to evaluate her health. I supposed that she was likely less shy when I wasnít around. During my time of waiting to return to check on her I got to thinking about cameras. It turns out that game cameras are less expensive that I expected. I had originally bought one as a means of determining if her house was being used. Then after encountering her in the house Thursday I realized that a camera would be my best means of determining her activity level and health and hence whether intervention was needed on my part. It seemed to be the best way to soothe a brain full of questions and worries.

    On Sunday, the 15th, I returned to check on her, leave some food, and to place a game camera facing her house in a different tree. I ascended the rope again. Most of the food I left on Thursday appeared to have been eaten. Once again I saw no sight nor sound indicating her presence.

    However, when I presented some plain, whole milk Greek yogurt with natural honey added a pair of paws quickly appeared to help hold the spoon. Once again she seemed quite hungry. She also ate an ample amount of avocado and some shelled walnuts. This time I left her diced, raw sweet potato, broccoli, mushrooms and some apple.

    This day she was bolder, less shy. She descended to the porchís lower level once or twice and I was able to take a few photographs. It was during this time while I was fumbling with my phone that she actually left the porch, ran around the trunk of the tree and entered the other porch. I think she has realized that this is the quickest way to get back into the house. Unfortunately, I didnít get a look at her as she did this.

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    I intend to go back in the next couple of days and retrieve the memory card from the game camera and hopefully that will answer many of my questions. I am still struggling to get out from under a large sleep debt; I have been struggling for energy. I have been pushing myself hard since her release, too hard. For reasons unknown I have not been able to sleep in. Once again I am struggling to sort out what I feel. I know that I still love her dearly and that I miss her tremendously. Yet, out there is where she is meant to be, amongst the trees. That is where she wants to be. Likewise, I think she also longs for my company, the security, which in turn allows play, and, of course, the food that I was able I to provide. Unfortunately for both of us, she canít have both in this instance.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    I am trying to figure out two things.

    How often I should return? (It takes approximately 45 minutes of driving time and a similar amount of time spent hiking, with a strong uphill component, one-way. With preparations and on site work time it takes up most of a day.)

    What is the best way to provide safe, supplementary water given that the return date will be uncertain? Or is it impossible to do so safely under these conditions? (I currently have a small, shallow dish set out there. It should refill when it rains and dry out in between rains, but some dirt and dust will likely blow in.)

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    I’m relieved to hear that Helen is alive and in her house. It will be enlightening to see what the game camera shows. My fear is that Helen is scared to venture far from the safety of her house. She could be concerned about losing it to another squirrel or a raccoon. I’m also interested in seeing what other wildlife roams around her house.

    Mount several large glass water bottles in the tree. We have two in our trees and all the wilds drink from them. You can bungee cord them to the tree trunk or make a wooden bottle holder that the spout sits down in with a platform under it for her to step on to drink.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    I am so glad to hear that Helen is holding her own thus far. Very interested to learn what the camera shows. The water situation is a challenge. Does it still go below freezing at night there, or are you past that now? If you still get hard freezes it could kill glass water bottles.
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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    Such great news! I was thinking about Helen yesterday!

    I hope she is just cautious and actually ventures out to get familiar with her environment, at the same time, doesn't get lost or lose her home!

    I'm sure you feel quite relieved to know that she is doing well and that you provided extra food etc. Plus, the weather is gradually getting much better and with spring, there will be more water. Hopefully she will figure everything out by summer!

    I would keep visiting and checking on her.

    Like others said, I'd be curious to know what the camera shows.

    Best of luck Helen!! We're rooting for you here!
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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    Quote Originally Posted by Chirps View Post
    I am so glad to hear that Helen is holding her own thus far. Very interested to learn what the camera shows. The water situation is a challenge. Does it still go below freezing at night there, or are you past that now? If you still get hard freezes it could kill glass water bottles.
    Yes, we will be vulnerable to hard freezes into April. Her house is 1000 ft higher in elevation than where I live so whatever the forecast says for where I live it will be at least several degrees colder up there, though I am not worried about her staying warm given that the house is stuffed with fleece and paper.

    I hadn't even thought about the freezing temps and the glass. I was focused on different concerns. Plastic will get gnawed on.

    We had a week where there wasn't any dew here. There might have been some at her higher elevation due the lower overnight temperatures.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    Quote Originally Posted by Mel1959 View Post
    Iím relieved to hear that Helen is alive and in her house. It will be enlightening to see what the game camera shows. My fear is that Helen is scared to venture far from the safety of her house. She could be concerned about losing it to another squirrel or a raccoon. Iím also interested in seeing what other wildlife roams around her house.

    Mount several large glass water bottles in the tree. We have two in our trees and all the wilds drink from them. You can bungee cord them to the tree trunk or make a wooden bottle holder that the spout sits down in with a platform under it for her to step on to drink.
    I was concerned with a water bottle that micro organisms would grow in it given that I wouldn't be changing the water every day or so as one would if it were in one's back yard. As Chirps mentioned, there is the freeze concern which I hadn't even thought of.

    Another concern I had is that creating a water source might draw predators to the vicinity of her house, which I definitely do not want.

    I am pretty certain that there are bears there. This is my inference based on scat. I knew this before I placed her house there. However, I don't think a bear is much of a threat to an adult squirrel. I wised I had had the camera idea before I had put her house there so that I could see what sort of creatures are roaming around.

    Helen's house is a fortress. A raccoon can't get in or reach into the main compartment. The porches are double level. The lower passage is 3" by 4" and then at the end the squirrel has to stand up and turn around 180 degrees to get up to the second level and to be able to get into the main compartment.

    So, another squirrel trying to enter her house would be very vulnerable if Helen is in the house because during that 180 degree turn Helen would be able to swipe or bite at their ears or eyes from behind.

    Think of it as having to go down a tunnel then up a man hole and having one's back to the entrance as one ascended up the man hole.

    I built a forward facing window and a sideways facing window into each porch, covered with 12 gauge 1/2" by 1" fencing. The entrance faces to the rear so that she is able to look around and listen in all directions before leaving the house.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    Quote Originally Posted by Buddy View Post
    I hope she is just cautious and actually ventures out to get familiar with her environment, at the same time, doesn't get lost or lose her home!
    I take the fact that she is still with the house three weeks in as a very good sign. My guess is that there would have been some sort of confrontation with resident squirrels and that she has held her own. I know there is at least one. The way the hickory nuts were picked clean was definitely the work of squirrels. The way the nuts were dug up was definitely the work of squirrels.

    One time as I was leaving I heard a warning call at dusk, though it stopped as I got closer. I was trying to figure out which tree the other squirrel was in. I don't think the squirrels live in dreys there. I think they live in tree hollows. I have seen one old, blown out drey and that is it. Being on a ridge it can get rather windy sometimes. I hope squirrels don't get motion sickness.

    That house is a huge advantage for her. No matter how hard it rains, no matter the wind, she will not get wet. That house is warm. No predator can bust her house open. Furthermore, if she is in the house she can really mess up any squirrel that tries to enter. From what I saw of Helen, I didn't see any signs of injuries.

    The last time I was there, I left some hickory nuts by her house and some elsewhere for the other squirrels.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    Quote Originally Posted by Mel1959 View Post
    My fear is that Helen is scared to venture far from the safety of her house. She could be concerned about losing it to another squirrel or a raccoon.
    Yes, I definitely sense some fear or at the very least a lot of caution. I have heard birds at that location on numerous occasions, but in only once instance did I see a squirrel. I think part of the low level of squirrel activity is part of a hard-wired seasonal pattern of those squirrels that have to make it through a hard winter. Minimizing activity minimizes calorie expenditure and exposure to the cold. Every squirrel is trying to make sure that the nuts that they have stashed will be sufficient to get them through winter, which is uncertain in duration and severity.

    Helen has always been more active in the morning. It will be interesting to see what the camera shows. I hope the camera's motion sensor will pick up the movement of a squirrel. I hope that any sights and sounds from the camera don't bother her. I think she will adapt, just as she adapted to the sounds around my house. The camera should pick up night time activity as well, though I don't expect her to be out and about then.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    I do not think micro organisms is a concern...theyíll drink water out of a mud puddle or pond if they have to. I also donít see it drawing in animals if its in a water bottle as much as a dish. I think leaving the safety of her immediate surroundings to get water is far more risky than either of these concerns.

    Iíd do some searching for water bottles. I believe they make some that are freeze proof. Besides, weíre heading into summer and this wonít be a concern before long.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rock Monkey View Post
    I hadn't even thought about the freezing temps and the glass. I was focused on different concerns. Plastic will get gnawed on.
    A glass water bottle cracked in our garage and it doesn't even get to freezing in there, so yes, any frost or expansion easily cracks those. Could you use plastic, but make a wooden box for it to sit in? Stain it as dark as possible with coffee or beetjuice or something to help it unthaw during sunlight hrs and stuff some insulation in the box with it? I would worry that even plastic (unless the softer kind) may crack as well.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    How about a BPA plastic? Hopefully less germs and I would expect it would less likely crack? At least less likely than a glass bottle.

    Maybe you can install somewhere close by one of these things:

    https://www.amazon.com/RentACoop-Ani.../dp/B07FMC845L

    It says chew proof; but I think they refer to the nozzle. Maybe you can cover it with some kind of metal to protect from chewing and hang it somewhere close to Helen's house?

    Maybe you can put the plastic/BPA bottle into a can? Something like this, to protect from chewing?

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    Even temporarily; until she figures it out water sources etc... Are there any stream or mini lake etc. close by?
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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    First, thank you so much for the update, I enjoyed your storytelling. I almost wish I hadn't learned from the title that she was still there. I probably would have jumped up and down when you heard her voice.
    Quote Originally Posted by Rock Monkey View Post
    I think part of the low level of squirrel activity is part of a hard-wired seasonal pattern of those squirrels that have to make it through a hard winter. Minimizing activity minimizes calorie expenditure and exposure to the cold.
    So true, and especially with Helen as she is literally toughening up physically and instinctually, so is probably just hunkered down.

    It wasn't until our rescue moved into our shed, that I was surprised to find that he would be asleep in there most of the cold days. And, yes, it would take LOts of activity to rouse him. I would yell "jr, are you in there?" like 50 times with no response so I would go in and sure enough we'd scare the heck out of each other like a cartoon. I think they kind of half hibernate when not food gathering, and that's just what she is doing. Not very exciting, but essential.

    I think her being so cautious is good and shows her natural instincts surfacing nicely.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    This is so exciting to follow, although I'm sorry for all the angst that you are going through in this process! I agree that it is a very good sign that she has made it these few weeks, so far so good. I would think the first few hours/days would be the most dangerous for a new release. Keep up the good work - but remember balance, for the sake of your health. God bless Helen!

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    Quote Originally Posted by sundoesshine View Post
    First, thank you so much for the update, I enjoyed your storytelling. I almost wish I hadn't learned from the title that she was still there. I probably would have jumped up and down when you heard her voice.
    Yes, that is a good point. I contemplated that some, my brain still was not operating at 100% capacity when I wrote it, still isn't. I am still adjusting to a new normal in multiple regards. It does sort of spoil the story. I guess I could have labeled it "Helen: Status Update." However, I also figured that some people wouldn't read it all to find out how things have turned out so far. So the title and the picture are the short version.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mel1959 View Post
    I do not think micro organisms is a concern...theyíll drink water out of a mud puddle or pond if they have to. I also donít see it drawing in animals if its in a water bottle as much as a dish. I think leaving the safety of her immediate surroundings to get water is far more risky than either of these concerns.

    Iíd do some searching for water bottles. I believe they make some that are freeze proof. Besides, weíre heading into summer and this wonít be a concern before long.
    I had no idea that such things might exist. I will look into it, though anything that requires a cord is out, obviously. I know in plumbing they make stop cock (valves) with weep portals, but I am not sure that solves the problem in this instance.

    With a puddle it likely would be fresh, arising from a recent rain, so micro organisms wouldn't have much time to flourish. I know that squirrels have a short gut, food passes through quickly, so stuff doesn't have much time to go bad in the intestines.

    However, occasionally I would bring a shallow sided bucket of water (nothing added) into my room to do some damp mopping. She would balance on the square rim and dip her head down and sniff the water. If it passed the test, she would drink. However if I dipped a rag in there even once, she would not touch it, because that rag would start the organisms percolating. After a couple of days even lightly used bucket of water smells nasty to my blunt human nose. So, the warmer the water, the quicker it goes bad, the quicker the organisms grow. I don't know if there if there is enough back contamination from the ball of a water bottle to start this process going.

    She also happily drank from my cup of water of her own initiative, which I would tilt to help her out. (Initially I was less happy about this, but it never seemed to cause me any problems so I stopped worrying about that.)

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    We only replace the water in our water bottles when they are empty. Granted, thereís a lot of activity at the water bottle so itís only a few days. I cannot imagine the micro-organisms would grow so profusely that the water would be undrinkable. I guess it all depends on how long between your visits.

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    I did some research about keeping water for animals from freezing and basically there is the electric heated water bottles, which is obviously out of the question, and there are some low tech solutions. Apparently with a water bottle the first thing to freeze is the ball at the tip of the spout and thus no water can come out. Even the heated ones don't seem to solve that problem. Glass might well brake in a freeze and plastic would likely be chewed through somewhere. (Helen never met a bottle of any kind that she didn't want to chew through.)

    The low tech solutions are using a dish and knocking out the ice and then refilling. So, this provides no water while the water is frozen.

    The most interesting solution for a remote site is a bit of a hybrid approach. You have some sort of container (some use an old tire) which is bigger than the water dish and you stuff it full of insulation of some kind, could be bubble wrap, for example. This creates a thermal break between the ground (which is a massive store of cold) and the water. Ideally the container should be dark in color to absorb the sun's heat during the day. The next piece is to place some sort of ball in the water dish. The ball moves around in the breeze helping to prevent the water from freezing. (It takes longer for moving water to freeze. Sort of like leaving a water spigot open to drip constantly on a cold night).

    The 19th was a windy day here. This is what her water dish at her release site looked like when I checked on her Monday the 22nd.

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    Whether she would still drink from such a dish, I don't know, but they do smell the water before drinking. I emptied the dish, scrubbed it with my finger, rinsed it and added fresh water.

  33. Serious fuzzy thank you's to Rock Monkey from:

    Buddy (03-26-2021)

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    Default Re: Helen is in Her House

    Quote Originally Posted by Mel1959 View Post
    We only replace the water in our water bottles when they are empty. Granted, thereís a lot of activity at the water bottle so itís only a few days. I cannot imagine the micro-organisms would grow so profusely that the water would be undrinkable. I guess it all depends on how long between your visits.
    In my case the most often I would be returning would be every week, over time the intervals would increase. A trip to the site takes the good part of a day and the hike with the gear is pretty draining.

    I have sleep apnea, which I have had all of my life, and with those machines, CPAP, APAP, etc. it is important to clean the mask, hose, and humidifier basin or you are likely to get some sort of sinus irritation or infection. Water is the building block of life. I wouldn't want her thinking "If he gave it to me, it must be okay." At least with the dish I know she will sniff it before deciding to drink.

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