NCM: Coweta County resident better known as the 'Squirrel Whisperer'
By Cathy Lee Phillips
Ask anyone at Woodward Academy about Skipper and they will smile and share their favorite story about her.
She is quite popular, even adored by practically everyone. The janitor sneaks her mango pits, one of her favorite treats. She is a precious part of the Woodward family, even though she has never worn a uniform or paid one dollar of tuition.
Yep. Skipper is a squirrel. She’s not your typical pet, and that makes her even more special.
Though loved by the entire school, Skipper actually resides with Janie Swanson Tutterow, a popular art instructor at Woodward for 34 years. Janie is also a lifelong resident of Coweta County. Skipper is, too. And Skipper isn’t the first squirrel to be rescued. She is actually the ninth squirrel Janie has saved from certain death.
Skipper’s story began when she was found in a tarpaulin covering a shed that was damaged in a storm. The storm could have blown Skipper anywhere, and she was lucky the tarp broke her fall to the ground. Not much larger than a walnut, she was obviously newborn and finding her mother would be virtually impossible. The family wondered what to do with the creature, but their daughter, a former Woodward student, already knew.
“Let me call Ms. Tutterow. She is always taking in abandoned animals and nursing them back to health. She has already done this with eight other squirrels.”
“Eight other squirrels?”
“I’m not kidding, Mom. She’s incredible and seems to know just what to do with tiny animals. Let me call her.”
The next day Skipper was delivered to Ms. Tutterow’s classroom for an evaluation. Her art students watched the proceedings because once Ms. Tutterow adopts a squirrel, so do her students. In fact, choosing a name is a class tradition. Potential names are submitted and a final one is selected by a majority vote.
Skipper was probably less than two weeks old, hairless and her eyes still closed. She was not much larger than a walnut. Janie carefully cuddled the tiny creature and talked sweetly to her. Of course she took the squirrel, knowing full well it would require constant care and feeding every two hours. Having had eight other squirrels, Janie had her technique. She fed the squirrel cat formula (found at pet stores) from a syringe with a nipple.
As Skipper grew, other foods were introduced into her diet such as edible flowers, white corn, spinach, broccoli and nuts. She loves cashews but will not touch a mere peanut. If you really want to make points with Skipper, her absolute favorite food is a crinkle-cut french fry from Zaxby’s. In a pinch she will eat waffle-cut fries from Chick-fil-A, but a Zaxby’s fry wins top honors. M & M’s are welcome. Once you crack the outer shell, she dives right for the chocolate—proving, of course, that Skipper is a woman!
Because Skipper needed constant care at first and because she suddenly inherited hundreds of Woodward brothers and sisters, Skipper attended school regularly. In addition to art, Janie uses the lost and abandoned to teach her students greater lessons—love, compassion and the need to care for all of creation.
At Janie’s home, the squirrel has a “Cadillac” cage, approximately 5 feet tall by 3 feet wide, with multiple levels and pockets for hiding and playing. Her traveling cage is much smaller, so Skipper obviously prefers her home digs. She tolerates the smaller cage so that she can visit her Woodward family. She gets restless at times, so it is not unusual for Janie to teach class with a grown, bushy squirrel atop her shoulder. Is it any wonder that her room is a must-see when prospective students tour the school? Parents are astonished and children often ask to be placed in Ms. Tutterow’s and Skipper’s classroom.
But … why squirrels?
“Because they are beautiful, considerate and loving. Skipper loves to be scratched under the chin and snuggle warmly in my lap.” Janie smiles, “I didn’t go out looking for squirrels. People bring them to me. I do what I can to save them because I love animals.”
Squirrels 1-8 were all taken to the gradual release program at Cochran Mill Nature Center in Palmetto and now live in the wild. Skipper’s situation is different. Somehow her teeth became hung in the cage and broke off. She cannot exist in the wild without their use to forage, crush food and survive. No worries, though. Skipper will turn 5 this winter and lives the good life. She is loved, fed, has cherished siblings, and she teaches … in more ways than one!
Read more stories from the September-October issue of Newnan-Coweta Magazine by clicking on http://newnancowetamag.com .