Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bleeping Squirrels!

I didn't use to mind squirrels.  In my mind they were just harmless little animals that looked like they were having a great time chasing each other and showing off their stunt man-like ability to jump from trees to rooftops to fences.  Oh, sure, there was a time in college when I was convinced that the squirrels on campus were absolutely targeting me with pine cones but I confess to having had a perverse enjoyment of that.  It was like having a daily obstacle course on my way to class.  Okay, maybe "daily" is overstating it, but whenever I went to class it was like an obstacle course. 

Then I got a dog and everything changed.

For the last decade I have more or less adopted my dog's innate hatred of squirrels.  Nothing about the nature of squirrels has changed in those years, of course, but their presence in my yard has resulted in a nearly endless concert of barking and destruction.  When a dog sees a squirrel, it wants to kill.  And when that dog lives with a gardener, what ends up dead is usually just the plant that was going to bloom in a few days had it not been snapped in half by a 90-pound canine on a blood-thirsty crusade.  And I have blamed the squirrels for this. 

But lately my dog has been slowing down.  His hips just don't work like they used to.  He will still attempt to gore a squirrel if he has already been up and walking for a while, but more often then not, he will simply issue a few protesting barks and then lay his head back down as if to say "to hell with it."  It's sad that he is slowing down because it makes it hard to put off thoughts about what comes next for him.  But if I'm honest, the less aggressive personality is kind of a nice change.

So with the dog slowing down, the squirrels have been amping up.  Apparently, word has spread throughout the neighborhood's Squirrel Syndicate that it is now safe enough to venture into my yard to glean the fallen bird feeder seeds or scrounge for whatever else squirrels like to eat.  They come by so much now that it's getting to the point where I actually recognize some of them; this one in particular:

I have had several close encounters with this particular squirrel including one startling episode in which I embarrassed myself in front of several passing motorists.  I pride myself on being a protective father and I was trying to live up to that role while walking my daughter home from the park when the squirrel in question surprised me by running along the fenceline that bordered the sidewalk . . . right about eye level for me.  I won't say I screamed, exactly, but a decidedly non-manly noise did escape my throat and, for the benefit of the drivers with their windows rolled up, the noise was accompanied by a less than courageous looking juke move that did not involve shielding my ward.

Um, anyway, you might be wondering how I know that it's this one squirrel and not one of the dozens or hundreds of look-alikes belonging to the Syndicate.  And if you're not wondering that, please start wondering about it so you don't waste your time focusing on the paragraph above.  The reason I know it was this squirrel is easy.  Check this out:

See that bulge in it's stomach/chest area?  It looks like a camel's hump on the wrong side.  Here's another view:

Eating a stick?  What for?

Is it pregnant or is that some kind of tumor?  Hoping that it was pregnant, I typed in "pregnant squirrel" and did a Google Image search.  Judging from what popped up in the search results, I have definitively concluded that my squirrel is probably not pregnant as this is what a pregnant squirrel is apparently supposed to look like:

This freaks me out.  On many levels.

So it looks like my backyard squirrel has a large tumor growing on its chest.  Since I started by saying that for the better part of the last 10 years I have adopted a hatred of squirrels it wouldn't be entirely genuine if I claimed to be totally broken up about my squirrel's condition.  But I can honestly say that on some level I think that it's too bad.  I know it's a "circle of life" thing and terrible things are happening all around the world every day.  But like all things, when trouble comes to your own backyard, it makes it feel more real and you wish there was something you could do to make it better. 


  1. I joined your blog because of the title. But it's nice to see there's some interesting writing to back up the awesomeness of the name.

    I'm Kyna, by the way, nice to meet you. :)

    1. We have a squirrel with exact same condition! I thought pregnant too but when I googled I also saw what you, is this a common tumor for squirrels? Can I post a pic of mine here?

  2. poor squirrel, it's natural to get sick and die, but preferably theoretically and not in our gardens.

  3. Hi Kyna. It's nice to meet you too. I have actually visited your blog in the past. You made a comment on another blog I was reading that cracked me up and I had to check out your blog. I've really enjoyed it and I like your wit! (It was a blog post in which the blogger admitted he was playing baseball with his son and sneaking peeks at his garden between plays).

    Catmint - that's exactly what I thought. Thanks for reading my post and commenting.

  4. Maybe this squirrel's condition is normal for this particular squirrel. We can hope. My dog goes after them too, and I cheer on the squirrel but the dog forgives me or doesn't hear in the heat of what we call the Squirrel Rodeos. He's only nailed them a couple of times in years of trying-- mostly they make him crazy hysterical so he comes inside tired and then I don't have to play ball with him during the news. So I like squirrels.

  5. If that squirrel were in my garden I would call for E.F., Elmer Fudd for those who don't know my blog. That squirrel looks sick, mangy and thin. They are rodents you know. Don't let that bushy tail fool you. In any case have a talk with your son about not picking up wild animals especially one that looks sick.

  6. As you have your battle with squirrels or not, I have my battle with the birds or not. I agree with the feeling of more real part. As I am always looking for the same visitors to my garden. Well, in hopes that all will be for the best of the squirrel..

  7. I too have two squirrels that visit and like you had dogs to keep it only to two. But now the dogs are gone and squirrels have invaded. The two originals are Gilbert a gray, and Gaylord a black. And yes they are males, I have picture proof. Now that the army of squirrels visit, I am not as happy about seeing any of them anymore.

  8. Linniew - what kind of dog do you have? He sounds like a pretty good hunter.

    Becky - I think he is pretty sick. He's been coming really close to my house lately. At first I thought maybe he had rabies, but apparently that's extremely rare among squirrels.

    Virginia - stay tuned for a future post on birds in my yard . . . and house!

    Gardenwalk - Sorry to hear your dogs are gone and that the squirrels have filled the void. I'm glad to hear that it's not just my imagination that the squirrels seem to pick up on the lack of canines around.

  9. My dog is a West Highland White Terrier (westie), only white right after a bath. They are hunters a lot like cats. But he is sweet and devoted and pretty much runs things around here...Not yappy, not lap dogs and only digs where the gophers or ground squirrels have tunnels. I recommend terriers for gardens & life!

  10. Linniew, I had a cairn terrier, a cousin to the Westie and every bit familiar with how devoted hunters for rodents they are. Unfortunately he past about a year and a half ago. He loved to eat my little cherry tomatoes when they were ripe.. He pretty much ran things around the house too, until my cat Piglet came in to the picture then tables turned.. lol!! I'm with you I recommend them too...

  11. I've met Cairns and they are wonderful Virginia. I think my dog is my old cat George, reincarnated, so maybe your cat is connected somehow with your terrier too. Cats are magical and wonderful... Chad thanks for letting us talk animals on your blog!

  12. They come bounding along full of the joys of 'let's see what there is in the garden to dig up today' impervious to death wishes I cast in their direction. Sorry to hear your dog is losing his zest for chasing squirrels and that now it's your turn. Thanks for a belly of laughs too, pregnant squirrel pic and all

  13. Here's a plan: capture the squirrel, take him on a road trip to the old reactors at Rancho Seco, let him eat whatever native vegetation he wants, and then see if he improves. My dogs live for chasing squirrels. If it weren't for the dogs I'd have a local chapter of Overeaters Anonymous operating out of my platform feeder.

  14. Honest to god, your description of the squirrel running by while you walked your daughter....I am sitting on my ipad reading your blog, with tears running down my face I was laughing so hard. I'm going to carry on reading now. Thanks for the laugh.

  15. The chest hump/tumor is relatively harmless, and temporary. I just noticed one on a local squirrel in the Delaware Valley and googled it, came up with your blog as identical, googled further and found the answer. It's caused by a Bot Fly larvae: more info here: Kudos to University of Florida!