National Squirrel Appreciation Day: Thursday, January 21, 2016
My dog Enzo minds me well. He listens and obeys.*He has a vocabulary equivalent to a five year old and performs tricks like some sort of dog magician. He's a big star on his basketball court and he’s a little alpha in the park. He solves puzzles, masters complex agility equipment, and clears high jumps in seconds. He tiptoes on his teeter-totter, weaves around my ankles, and prays to Jesus. He hops on the balance ball—then he hops in my arms.
Enzo yields to my every wish; deferring to me for information.* He stands by my side and lines up for duty. With a 'park it' cue, he retreats to his crate and settles on his bed. He helps with the laundry, hits the snooze button, and fetches my slippers. He even seems to miss me when I'm gone.
Enzo is my watchdog.* While his unique shenanigans make the world giggle, his behavior teaches me tough love. His bark is bigger than his bite. He’s loud, but he's a lover. He certainly turns heads, as people take a few steps back. He plays hoops and he plays the field—with squirrels, that is.
“Whenever he looks at me with those big brown eyes, I feel like giving him a nut,” she said. She even started calling the squirrels running around in the park Mr. Whitmans.” ―Kerstin Gier, Ruby Red
Enzo comes when I call him.*But, he tunes me out when it's not convenient. And when there are squirrels around, it’s not convenient. While his recall is impressive, I can't seem to compete with Mr. Squirrel. No matter how disciplined and trainable Enzo is, I don't stand a chance when there's a frisky critter or two performing acrobatics in the yard—swinging from tree to tree and fence to lamp post. Twitching and nibbling, these little guys twinkle their nose and hold a nut like its a nugget of gold.
When Enzo spots his inferior counterparts, he shoots out the door like a cannonball. It's like he sounds an alarm to the rest of his K9 unit, and our backyard becomes alive with action. There's no slowing him down. It’s non-stop determination to win the squirrel race. With Enzo in the lead, my dogs initiate hot pursuit for every pesky rodent who invades their territory without permission. As my dogs blaze a trail for the wild animal, I chase after my own wild beasts.
Running behind my three pack, I replay in my mind what I fear most. By the speed of pursuit, I'm certain this can't end well. However, nothing amounts to this reckless abandon. The squirrels are way too clever and my dogs are outnumbered.
The thrill is in the chase.
I turn the corner. To my surprise, the thundering paws pounding the ground begin to slow, then stop. The clammer ceases and the backyard becomes unusually still. I sense three sets of concerned eyes looking at me.
Come to find out, when my pack have the chance to pounce, they don't. Instead, I find my herding dogs and my curious Husky looking down lovingly at a baby squirrel (kitten). Presumably it had fallen from a tree nest. Instead of grabbing for it's neck to finish the job, my dogs sat in silence and beamed at this tiny, beautiful creature with compassion.
“Honor God's every little creature, as they may not have a voice.” —C.Bournias
The kitten crawled a bit, then froze. It must have realized how much larger we all were as we surrounded its once protective circle. As it lie still, my dogs were somber and quiet. They circle and take a bow in front of the baby. Enzo picked up on my concerned energy and searched my eyes for instruction. They walk away to their respective corners in the yard and continue to look at me, blinking. They wait for further direction, watching my every move.
"Simple things which other animals easily learn, he (man) is incapable of learning…In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately." ― Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings
I released the kitten safely into the wilderness and it was on its way.
What would dogs do if they didn't chase squirrels? While squirrels can be considered a nuisance, these small animals are quite interesting. I believe my fur family found a renewed appreciation for the species too. There seems to be a deeper admiration for these critters. In fact, there are many squirrel characteristics to appreciate:
Did You Know?
1. Squirrels exist in nearly every habitat on Earth.
Squirrels are found on every continent. There are 285 species scattered across the globe. In order to escape coexisting with squirrels, you'd have to visit our planet’s Poles (Antarctica and Australia). Gray Squirrels reside in Eastern U.S. and are found in many Western states, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa.
2. Squirrels help trees.
Each season, one gray squirrel buries thousands of acorn caches for later use, none of them they ever rediscover. The squirrels take acorns from underneath an oak tree and bury them somewhere else. This ritual is called scatter hoarding and gives trees increased dispersal.
3. Squirrels hurt trees.
North American red squirrels eat pine cone seeds or hide them in secret larders where the seeds remain moist and have little chance of germinating. While great for squirrel survival, this hiding reduces the chance of trees reproducing.
Squirrels have food storage strategies.
Squirrels know the difference between white and red oak acorns and store them according to which ones germinate quicker. (White acorns germinate almost as soon as they hit the ground. Squirrels eat them immediately since a germinated acorn loses nutritional value. Squirrels prefer to bury red acorns for wintering snacking because they don't germinate until spring.)
If squirrels run low on acorns, walnuts, and hazelnuts, they harvest maple syrup directly from trees, scoring the maple’s bark with its teeth. They let the sap leak and dry up, then return to lick it later.
5. Squirrels eat mushrooms.
Red squirrels hang fungi out to dry between tree branches. This handcrafted mushroom jerky keeps better during winter months and is less likely to infect their larder with insect larvae or nematodes.
6. Squirrels are built to be acrobats.
Squirrels can leap 10 times their body length, jumping a distance of 20 feet. Their ankles can turn 180 degrees to face any direction when climbing. Squirrels can fall up to 100 feet without hurting themselves. They use their tail both for balance and as a parachute. Squirrels back feet have five toes and four sharp front toes used to grip tree bark when climbing. Their hind legs are double-jointed, helping them run up and down trees quicker.
7. Squirrels have exceptional eyesight.
Squirrels learn from copying other species—including humans. Their eyes are positioned in such a way that they can see some things behind them.
8. Squirrels are survivors.
Squirrels can eat their own body weight (approximately 1.5 pounds) every week and the hibernating arctic ground squirrel is the only warm-blooded mammal able to withstand body temperatures below freezing.
Squirrels have clever ways to fend off predators such as rattlesnakes. They have fantastic reflexes, reacting fast enough to dodge a snake during the fraction of a second that it takes for the reptile to lunge.
If squirrels notice a snake first, or if an ambush is likely to ensue, they raise their tail and flood it with blood, causing the tail to become warm. This gesture stands out like a beacon to snakes. Snakes recognize this squirrel warning as defusing their surprise, so they don’t bother to attack.
Squirrels also deter predators using scent. They find a dead rattlesnake, chew its skin, and then lick themselves, leaving squirrels smelling like snakes. Scientists believe this squirrel plan tricks animals into thinking that their dwelling is home to a venomous danger, rather than a tasty mammalian snack.
9. The word "squirrel" is a Greek word meaning "shadow tail.”
10. Longview, Washington is considered Squirrel Lover's Capital of America.
In 1963, a kindhearted local built a bridge called Nutty Narrows Bridge so that squirrels were not killed trying to cross the busy highway. This 60 ft. bridge is placed above the road with a live web cam feed. Longview plans to install three additional squirrel bridges and now holds an annual Squirrel Fest to showcase squirrel enthusiasm.
Enzo barks without letting up when he spots a squirrel. He barks and he barks and he barks.
Peculiar, today there's no noise. Everything is unusually still. I peer through the window to confirm the silence is emanating from our yard. Outside, I find Enzo at the base of the tree. He’s looking up, gently wagging his tail. There seems to be one particular squirrel that Enzo has grown quite fond of.—one little squirrel that has managed to captivate his attention. We call him Mr. Squirrel.
I whistle. Enzo looks back at me, relaxed. Then glances upward again. He smiles up at the tree and wags his tail some more.
Christina Bournias resides in Michigan with her 3-pack; three new beautiful adopted miracles. As her “Angelwriter”, Nicodemus (1997-2010) is the wisdom behind the stories she shares. Christina champions the magnitude of building the bond between a dog and their person(s) by means of respectful communication and enduring admiration.
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January, 2016: American Pet Magazine | V5 Issue1, Page 4-7