Author Archives: Mikel Delgado

Squirrels and crime

I’ve previously reported about Jon Barbour, the man who shot his neighbor in the buttocks after a dispute about Barbour’s squirrel-feeding habits. Barbour claimed that squirrel-feeding allowed him to commune with his deceased parents. In August, Barbour was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the incident.

Another squirrel feeder in trouble, Gaylord Sigland (who I reported on back in July), was cited for feeding wildlife, possibly violating a city ordinance. A neighbor was unhappy with the squirrels gathering peanuts from Sigland and then burying them in his yard. City council eventually voted 5-3 to exempt squirrel- and bird-feeding from the ordinance, and the charges were dropped.

A British man was arrested after dragging a dead squirrel around from door to door to convince people they had a rodent problem and needed roof repairs. He has since been charged with fraud.

 

Whenever I think about gun control laws, I think about stories like the one about the woman who was “high on something” and pointed a gun at a squirrel outside a coffee shop. And pulled the trigger three times.

You think you're just grocery shopping, and then you see an abandoned cart with five severed squirrel heads in it. Well, hopefully this has not happened to you, but it did happen to someone in Ontario, Canada. The local SPCA is investigating and asking for folks to come forward (confidentially) if they have any information.

A man was behaving suspiciously and walking around wearing emoji-pajamas carrying a baby squirrel in a pink washcloth. Next thing you know he is in lockdown, biting a police officer’s arm and getting tasered in the butt. The squirrel was taken to animal control. Police suspect that he was casing houses for burglaries.

Police blotter

Folks in Lexington, MA called the cops because a squirrel had gained entry into his home.  Similarly, in Wisconsin Rapids, a man called the police because he needed help getting a squirrel out of his home.

Car accidents

A 16-year old girl in Pewaukee, WI crashed her car into a tree after swerving to avoid a squirrel. A man in Charlotte, NC drove into a brick wall when he tried to avoid hitting a squirrel.

Pizza squirrels

Squirrels were spotted eating pizza in Washington, DC, Lakewood, CO, Michigan, Atlanta, and St. Petersburg, FL.

Squirrels were also seen indulging in cookies and potato chips.

 

 

Squirrel rescue corner

As self-sufficient as squirrels may be, they often find themselves in situations where they need a little help from their human friends. This Boston squirrel got his head stuck in a hole at the bottom of a dumpster, which required a soap treatment to get him slippery enough to get out.

A squirrel in Georgia got stuck in a bird feeder, although it’s unclear if the man who discovered the squirrel also helped the squirrel out, or just recorded his plight.

 

A Canadian squirrel got his head stuck in a Dairy Queen cup, but a good citizen was able to set him free. A squirrel in Connecticut got stuck in some spray insulating foam when a man was sealing his roof. The foam quickly rendered the squirrel immobile, but a wildlife rescue was able to clean her up and keep her until she was ready for release.

 

Turns out that police commonly rescue squirrels – officers in Sparta, WI and Portsmouth, VA helped baby squirrels make their way to safety.

And if you rescue a squirrel, you may end up with a friend for life. A family saved Bella, who had been attacked by an owl. They raised her until she was ready to be released into the wild. But for the last eight years, Bella comes by daily for treats, and to model tiny squirrel hats.

Cinderella story or Jon Benet Ramsey of squirrels? Theodora was found in the gutters of a family’s home. Since then, they’ve been caring for her, taking her to McDonald’s for fries, and dressing her up in costumes.

Do squirrels dream of nuts?

This rescued baby squirrel is dreaming of something. Nuts. Yes, I think nuts.

Tune in tomorrow for squirrels and sports, squirrel celebrations, and SQUIRREL ATTACKS!!

When you neglect the squirrel news, it adds up. I'll be ending 2017 with a few posts letting you know what my favorite rodents have been up to. Let's go!

Power Outages and Fires

Squirrels started brush fires in West Richland, WA and Mississippi, after shorting an electrical circuit, caused a vacant building to burn in Pennsylvania, and inadvertently set fire to a golf course in Anaconda Hills, Montana. Another squirrel burned down 40 acres in Pelion, SC. A squirrel also started a fire in a cheese factory in Canada, causing 20,000 gallons of milk to spoil, and finally, a holiday was all but ruined when a squirrel was found responsible for a house fire in Menlo Park, CA. Squirrels also caused some $1500 worth of damage to the library in Hopedale, MA, where “They’re not welcome if they’re going to chew on the electrical wires.”

Few states avoided the wrath of squirrels. Squirrel related outages occurred in Mitchell, South Dakota, Oklahoma City, Prescott Valley, AZ, Midland Park, NJ, Chattahoochee, FL, Casper, WY, 100 Mile House, Canada, Statesville, NC, Canton, OH, Idaho Falls, York County, PA, East Memphis, TN, Grand Island, NE, Janesville, WI, Auburn, CA, Stamford, CT, Sidney, NY, Louisville, OH, Findlay, OH, Wake Forest, NC, Orleans, Ottawa, Altus Air Force Base, OK, Lincoln, NE, Centralia, WA, Altus, OK, Lafayette, AL, and Mableton, GA.

According to reports, a squirrel in Island Park, ID “sizzled” ‘til he was “medium rare.” A squirrel also shut down the power and the classes at University of Michigan. Christmas Eve wasn’t so fun for thousands in Pasadena who were left without power for over an hour, thanks to a squirrel: “The condition of the squirrel was unavailable.” In Dadeville, AL, a squirrel shorted power lines, causing the lines to fall on the ground and leave marks that some thought were crop circles left by aliens. Finally, one particularly powerful squirrel left over 45,000 people without power in San Diego.

Squirrel-related school lockdowns

School officials thought they heard a gun firing and locked down the elementary school in Beloit, WI. Turns out it was just a squirrel blowing out the transformer.

 

A man in Cocoa, FL put a school in lockdown when he pointed a BB gun at a squirrel that was in his attic. It led to a call to 911, and after the hub bub the man decided he didn’t want to shoot the squirrel after all! For some reason, the news article features several photos of the gun-wielding individual in just a beach towel.

A 74-year old man in Michigan sent a school into lockdown when he was hunting squirrels on school property. Children were rushed inside, and the man was citing for firing a firearm within city limits.

Hunting corner: More squirrels and guns

A man in Amherst shot through three walls of his neighbor’s home with a .22 while aiming at a squirrel. 71-year old Zbigniew Stanley Puza was charged with a misdemeanor crime for discharging a firearm within city limits. No one was injured.

Roger Hoeker was charged with involuntary manslaughter after killing a 13-year old boy. The man was squirrel hunting, the boy was on a hunting trip as part of the Christianity Outdoors mentorship program.

A man in Tiffin, Ohio was shot in the chest by his hunting buddy who was aiming for a squirrel.

A man in Newcastle, Wales, shot his neighbor’s cat while aiming for a squirrel. The squirrel was scaring birds away from his bird feeder, leading John Charles Quinney to seek out the ultimate punishment. Sadly, the cat was seriously injured and had to be euthanized. Mr. Quinney was required to pay a fine.

A Christmas morning squirrel hunting trip in Bristol Township, Ohio led to the discovery of human remains. The human skull and other remains were believed to be almost a year old, and likely belonged to a man. No word on whether the rest of the hunting trip was fruitful.

Tune in tomorrow for even more squirrel news, including squirrel crime and squirrels eating pizza.

Everyone still wants to know, does my cat love me? And now, thanks to technology and an increased understanding of the human-cat relationship, we can take a better look at whether your cat misses you when you’re gone.

Does your cat miss you when you're gone?

Are cats aloof loners who don’t miss you? Or are they secretly pining away for your return while you are at work? Cats have a reputation for being a low-maintenance pet. Throw down some food and a litter box, and they’re fine, right? But I think the reputation is a bit overblown. It used to drive me nuts when I worked in an animal shelter and the adoption staff would direct someone toward adopting a cat because they worked too much for a dog. Cats have needs, and although they don’t need to be taken for a walk to go to the bathroom like dogs do, it doesn’t mean they don’t need exercise, affection, and other mental stimulation to keep them engaged. I believe this “low-maintenance” stereotype is often the culprit when it comes to people experiencing behavior problems with their cats.

That said, we know very little about what cats do when we are gone, and about the cat-human relationship. A new open-access study, “Cats and owners interact more with each other after a longer duration of separation” looked at what happens when humans leave from and return to the home, to see if cats showed any signs of what is known as “separation distress.”

The study was conducted with fourteen cats, in their homes, in Sweden. The cats normally spent most of their time indoors, and if they were allowed outdoors, it was only with supervision. The cats were tested on two consecutive days: on one day, the owner departed for 30 minutes, and on the other day, the owner was gone for four hours. All cats experienced both conditions, and the order of conditions was balanced, meaning that for some cats, the owner was gone for 30 minutes on the first day, and for other cats, the owner was gone for four hours on the first day.

Digital cameras were used to record the cats’ behaviors and vocalizations, and owners’ behavior when leaving and returning. Behaviors noted included resting, playing, grooming, walking, sitting, attention to owner, meowing, and purring (you can download a list of all the behaviors here). The cats were on camera for about 70% of the time guardians were gone. So, what happened when the guardians left?

Well, not too much. There were no differences in human or cat behavior before the guardian left or while they were gone. Cats spent more of their time resting during the longer separation.

Cats greeted their humans with a little stretch.

When guardians returned, cats were more likely to purr and stretch after the four-hour separation, than the short period of separation. Guardians were more likely to talk to their cats when they returned if they were gone for a longer time, but the purring and stretching were not dependent on that human interaction. This suggests that the cats may have noticed that their human was absent for a longer period, although it is unclear what the stretching indicates.

My guess? That the cats were taking a bit of a siesta during that longer absence (as cats often stretch when they first wake up) – which was interrupted by their human’s return.

Did the cats miss their humans? I don’t think this study provides us with a slam dunk either way. I love that the study looked at cats’ natural behaviors in their homes, and I think it’s great starting point for looking at how cats respond to human absence and presence. But the sample size is quite small, and as most research does to me, I was left with more ideas and questions than answers.

It would be great to look at cats’ activity patterns through the day, and how those are dictated by human activity. One challenge with videorecording is that when the cat is off camera, you don’t know what they are doing.

My cat's daily activity...

I recently put a Jawbone UP on my cat to see how active she is and when. What I can see is that when I’m sleeping, she’s sleeping. And that she has clear patterns of activity that reflect, to an extent, our activity in the home (note: this is not a scientific result!). In fact, I could match my fitness tracker with hers (correcting for when I’m not home, of course) and compare. Hmmm, I think I just came up with my next research project.

I also think that four hours isn’t necessarily long enough to know about how cats really respond to human absence. I don’t know what the work culture is like in Sweden, but most of my kitty clients are gone eight to twelve hours a day (if not more) if they work outside the home.

If the guardian absence wasn’t routine, and since it was different in each day of the experiment, we may not see the same level of greeting behaviors that some of us see when we come and go on a strict schedule. Just like dogs, I’ve seen many situations where cats anticipate their human’s return from work, and greet them at the door or show increased activity at that time.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot we don’t know about separation anxiety in cats, partly because we tend to use dogs as a reference point. Many dogs exhibit overt signs of separation anxiety, which can cause great stress for dog and human alike. Cats may show signs of distress that are less obvious – such as hiding, withdrawing from human interaction, or even sickness behaviors, which we know are triggered by stress and changes in routine.

Until we know more, I think we should assume that cats have needs while we are gone, and even if they aren’t meeting us at the front door. Most of us have to leave the home regularly, but I think that leaving your cat with bird feeders to watch, a sun spot to snooze in and a food puzzle to play with while you’re gone, and providing them with a structured routine including exercise and affection when you’re home are a great way to head off any separation distress at the pass!

References

Eriksson, M., Keeling, L. J., & Rehn, T. (2017). Cats and owners interact more with each other after a longer duration of separation. PloS one12(10), e0185599.

Stella, J. L., Lord, L. K., & Buffington, C. T. (2011). Sickness behaviors in response to unusual external events in healthy cats and cats with feline interstitial cystitis. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association238(1), 67-73.

A recent study helps us better understand cat elimination behavior

If you build it , they will come. Photo by CambridgeBayWeather courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Going to the bathroom, it seems so simple – everybody does it! But when it comes to cats, things can get complicated. When we provide what they prefer in a litterbox, it’s like magic – you build it (the litterbox), they will come. Thanks to cats’ natural proclivities for eliminating in a loose substrate, we don’t even have to “train” cats to use the litterbox.

But when things go wrong, and by that, I mean pee on your bed or poop on the floor, they go horribly wrong. Nothing sends guardians into despair, and cats into homelessness quicker than a litterbox avoidance issue. Any research that can help us understand the intricacies of feline elimination behavior is a good thing in my book.

Recently the folks at Purina published a study in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science called, “The ins and outs of the litter box: A detailed ethogram of cat elimination behavior in two contrasting environments.” This study was all about observation, no judgment, with a goal of providing a detailed ethogram of the behaviors that cats exhibit during elimination.

Twelve cats (six female, six male) who live in an enriched environment at the Purina cattery participated in the study. First the cats were allowed to acclimate to the testing room for 4 days. The testing room was 12 x 13’, with elevated resting areas, toys, and a large litterbox (approximately 3’x3’ square, and six inches high) with sandy clay clumping litter. On the 5th day, filming of the cats began, focusing on pre-, during, and post-elimination behaviors. On days 9 to 13, the cats were moved to a small enclosure (2 x 2.3 x 2.7’) within the room, to mimic the “clinical” environment a cat might be housed in while in a veterinary hospital or boarding facility. Cats were also given a smaller litterbox (16” x 12” x 4” high) and the litter was switched to polypropylene beads, similar to pellet litters that are sometimes used instead of the softer litters.

Ninety-one elimination events were recorded during the study, 58 urinations, 24 defecations, and nine 2-for-1s (or a number two with a number one!). From this, the researchers were able to come up with a detailed list of observations and differences between the two conditions (original vs clinical environment). Let’s take a closer look at some of the interesting findings!

First of all, 7 to 8 AM was the most popular time to pee and poop. In case you were wondering (of course, this might be related to what time the cats are fed, which was not noted in the manuscript).

From this study, 38 elimination behaviors were observed and included in an ethogram, which covers everything from tail positions to paw motions and body postures. From the observed behaviors, and what we know from studies previously published by Wailani Sung & Sharon Crowell-Davis, and by Nicole Cottam & Nicholas Dodman, we can assume that there were some things about the clinical setting that the cats didn’t like.

A cat who doesn't put all their paws in the box might be trying to tell you something. Photo by 十字花剑 via Wikimedia Commons.

During urination, cats did more pawing at the litter when eliminating in the beads; they also did more “paw shifting” and kept fewer paws in the box with the beads. They also urinated less frequently and for longer periods in the clinical setting. When defecating, the cats were more likely to balance their paws on the side of the box, and were more hesitant to enter the box in the clinical setting with the bead litter.

For both urination and defecation, the cats spent more time sniffing their eliminations, and scratching at the walls or sides of the box in the clinical setting; there were no differences in time spent digging in the different litter substrates. The only times that the cats eliminated outside the box was in the clinical setting, with four urination and five defecation events occurring elsewhere.

Unfortunately, one issue with the current study is that in the “clinical” environment, the experimenters changed three things at once: the size of the enclosure, the size of the litterbox, AND the type of the litter. It’s hard to say for certain that the behavioral changes observed during the switch from enriched to clinical setting were due to one of those things, or perhaps because of an additive or interaction effect between more than one change. To tease factors like these apart, it’s really best to only change one thing at a time.

The authors suggest that a quick elimination experience may actually be a good thing; the extended time cats spent pawing at the areas around the box may have been because they kept smelling their waste in the box (also supported by more sniffing post-elimination in the clinical setting) – suggesting that the beads may not have provided enough odor control for the participating cats.

Another observation of concern was that the cats urinated less frequently and for longer periods in the clinical setting. This may be due to urine retention – in other words, that the cats were holding their urine for some reason (possibly because something about the litterbox experience was unpleasant). Urine retention can be a risk factor for urinary tract disease, which is another reason for us to better understand what helps cats love their litterboxes!

Perhaps most importantly, if we can assume that something about the clinical setting was distasteful to the cats, either the litter substrate, the size of the box, or both – this assumption further underscores the importance of understanding that USE does not equal preference. I’ve blogged about this before. Basically, just because your cat uses it, we should not assume they like it!

Because the cats showed some “frustration behaviors” in the clinical setting even when still using the box, including not putting all paws in the box and spending more time scratching at other areas besides the litter, the authors of the current study state, “out-of-box elimination alone may not provide a sufficient indicator of whether the cat finds the litter box experience acceptable.” Nuff said.

Photo via cheezburger.com: http://cheezburger.com/697955072/did-you-have-2-git-the-cheap-litter

Squirrels and sports

Like me, squirrels seem to enjoy baseball. A squirrel named Crumbs likes to cheer on Maryland’s minor league team. An outfielder noted: “Every time we have seen him during games … something good has happened. He knows we got the W.”

Another squirrel in Cleveland ran onto the field during a game, and disappeared into the stands when stadium staff tried to chase him. The same squirrel received cheers from the crowd a few weeks later when he made an encore appearance.

And this squirrel couldn’t wait for the All Star Game to be over, running onto the field of the Detroit Tigers’ stadium at the first opportunity.

But squirrels aren’t exclusive to baseball. This squirrel got involved during the PGA golf tournament in Texas, barely missing being blasted by a drive.

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Squirrels and crime

A man in Tunbridge Wells in the UK is dragging a dead squirrel door to door, offering to inspect people’s rooftops and then telling them they need to give him money to fix the (non-existent) squirrel related damage. Police recommend calling them if you are offered such services by a unsolicited man carrying a dead squirrel.

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In Wisconsin, folks at a rummage sale called the police to complain that baby squirrels were “harassing them,” and police were also called to escort a “large squirrel” from someone’s bedroom in Salem, Massachussetts. That wasn’t the only squirrel break-in: a woman was terrified by a squirrel who broke into her home in Pennsylvania, and screamed really loudly. The family managed to get the squirrel out of the home without having to call the police.

In Spokane, residents are concerned after a mutilated squirrel was found hanging from a tree. There were no witnesses to the event. Across the pond, folks were horrified when a man ordered his dog to kill a squirrel in front of children.

Is it a crime if it’s an act of patriotism?

Squirrels in Texas stole several small American flags from a veteran’s yard. Turns out the flags make handy squirrel nest material!

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Squirrel steals eggs from (Easter) bunny

After thirty years of successful Easter Egg hunts, a Missouri park experienced plastic egg theft at the paws of a sneaky squirrel, who grabbed a purple plastic egg, carried it up a tree, and chewed large holes into it.

Trial opens and closes in attempted murder case over squirrel feeding

A Colorado man, Jon Barbour, shot his neighbor in the buttocks after a dispute over his squirrel-feeding habits, which the neighbor did not appreciate. Barbour claimed that feeding squirrels helped him commune with his dead parents. He was charged with attempted second-degree murder. Just five days later, he was found guilty. Sentencing will happen on August 4.

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When squirrels attack

Several children in Jacksonville, FL were trying to enjoy a stroll in a local park when one was scratched up by a squirrel. Officials felt certain the squirrel was not rabid, just hungry. In Moscow, ID, a woman reported to police that a one-eyed rabid squirrel attacked her and her child. The squirrel could not be located, and neither the woman nor her child were injured.

How often do squirrels attack? Turns out we don’t really know. Since squirrels don’t tend to carry serious diseases, such as rabies, the CDC does not track squirrel bites (and most squirrel bites are probably not reported). The Atlantic recently delved into this topic!

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Crime fighting squirrel

I previously reported on the “pet” squirrel who thwarted a burglar attempting to break into a gun safe. The squirrel has since been returned to the wild, perhaps to fight other crimes.

Squirrel rescue corner

Sometimes squirrels need a little help from humans. I’m not so sure this Boston squirrel was ashamed, but he was definitely buttery by the time rescuers were able to free him from a dumpster he was stuck in.

A baby squirrel was rescued from a busy NY roadway, by a police officer who kept him safe overnight. He was transferred to wildlife rescue the next day.

A DC squirrel was rescued from a fire in a house he had apparently been squatting in. Speaking of squatting, this squirrel was rescued from a toilet. But how did the squirrel get IN the toilet?

A man in Virginia trapped a squirrel and cut off a large ring that was stuck around her neck. The squirrel was freed and completely recovered.

She could use an orthodontist

Concerned citizens in Miami are trying to save a squirrel with a maloccluded tooth – that means her tooth is not growing properly. Squirrels with such dental problems often die because they cannot eat or because the tooth grows into their skull. I couldn’t find an update on Sabrina the snaggle-toothed squirrel.

 

A squirrel king

It’s not as regal as it sounds; a squirrel king is when a bunch of squirrels get tied together by their tails. Yes, this really happens! Recently, four baby squirrels in Maine ended up tangled together, and a nearby cat was thinking they would make a tasty meal. A man was able to catch the squirrels and allowed them to calm down in a box. “It was a like a dreadlock” – but after working at the tails for an hour and a half, the babies were set free at their nest tree, and returned to mom.

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Yet another squirrel bridge

Longview, WA is known for its yearly Squirrel Fest, and its many squirrel bridges that allow squirrels to cross roads without running into traffic. This year Longview added a fifth bridge to the mix. But do the squirrels even care? A town in Holland spent over 12000 euros on squirrel bridges, and a year later, they believe that ZERO squirrels have used it.

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Back when squirrels were pets

Atlas Obscura published this fascinating piece on the history of keeping squirrels as pets! There was a time where you could purchase a squirrel in a pet store; I think as cute as squirrels are, we are much better appreciating them out of doors!

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Science corner

A new publication out of Exeter, by my friend Pizza Chow, looked at whether squirrels could remember a problem they had solved almost two years earlier, and whether they could apply these skills to a new, similar problem. The answers are YES and YES!

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What helps baby red squirrels survive? Being born before the other squirrels in the neighborhood. “First out of the nest is best” – those squirrels have a better chance at establishing their own territory before competition sets it. It sounds like trying to find housing in the Bay Area.

Researchers in North Carolina recently discovered that North America is home to THREE, not two, species of flying squirrel. The Humboldt’s flying squirrel is currently the nation’s newest mammal discovery!

I’ll tell you, co-authoring a book, finishing your dissertation, and teaching do not leave a lot of time for blogging about squirrels. I’ve got about four months of squirrel news to catch you up on, and I hope you will not be disappointed.

Let’s start with the basics. Power outages:

A squirrel shut down the grid by chewing wires and starting fires in Luverne, MN. Hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of people in Fargo ND, Omaha NE, Ashland OR, Blacklick, OH, Staten Island, Bangor ME, Nashville TN, Hamilton MN, Ripon, CA, Muskegon, MI, and Cedar Springs, MI lost power thanks to squirrels. A mere 250 people in Arkansas were left without power after a squirrel caused a power outage. A college campus in Mississippi, a high school in Chico CA, and an elementary school in Bovina, MS all got excused from class after squirrels shut them down.

In Springdale, PA, a “loose wire and a dead squirrel” caused lights to flicker on and off. Eugene OR suffered an outage when a squirrel’s tail “touched a second phase power line.” Translation: the squirrel was electrocuted and died.

A squirrel chewed on electrical wires in a home in Dekalb, GA, almost burning it down. Luckily the home owner was around when the sparks flew and no one was injured.

In international outages, folks in Hamilton in Canada and Chilwell in the UK also lost power in squirrel-related incidents.

But people aren’t just sitting back and letting squirrels shut down their power. After a squirrel caused a 10 HOUR power outage for over 6000 households in Sunnyside, WA, shutting down churches and restaurants, officials have vowed to “explore their options” to prevent this from happening again. In Guelph, Canada, the city is replacing old equipment and adding wildlife protection covers to stop the never-ending wave of power losses.

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Car Trouble

A man in Pennsylvania lost control of his car, crashing into a parked vehicle, claiming it was all because he was trying to avoid hitting a squirrel. A woman in South Carolina flipped her vehicle when she went off the side of the road, also trying to avoid hitting a squirrel. The driver’s comment: “I don’t like squirrels anymore.”

Luckily, a driver at the German racing event Nurburgring avoided hitting a squirrel who ran across the track. He also avoided injuring himself.

Squirrels love food

And people love squirrels who love food...especially if it is human food they love. Recently, squirrels have been observed enjoying pizza, tacos, and even French bread.

Folks at a golf course in North Carolina gained some internet notoriety for feeding a squirrel an Ice cream on a daily basis. “Putter” got her own tiny squirrel-sized cone of ice cream and returned the favor by giving birth to two babies. Only time will tell if they will also expect their own treats.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

A plane was delayed when a squirrel was found hanging out in the engine.

A squirrel caused some chaos when stuck on a London train;

 

And a man in Canada unknowingly gave a squirrel a ride in the backseat of his car.

Hunting corner

A woman in Tennessee spent over six months in the hospital after her husband shot her instead of  a squirrel. The husband mentioned that “God is good.”

A man in Staten Island was busted using a bow and arrow to hunt squirrels. He was charged with prohibited use of a weapon. Two teenagers in South Dakota face charges after discharging a weapon within city limits for firing a BB gun and killing a squirrel.

For the record, I am a vegetarian and don’t condone the eating of squirrels. But one British butcher is encouraging folks to give “squirrel on the barbie” a try.

Squirrel slam controversy

Folks in New York are still trying to get the “Squirrel Slam” hunting contest shut down. The squirrel slam offers prizes for those who “bag” the most squirrels. Opponents have tried to shut down the slam in court multiple times, and once again, they were dissed and dismissed. Sadly, the slam continues.

 

Inter-species interactions

Squirrels aren’t considered a particularly social species, and sometimes they have interactions with other animals…who aren’t squirrels!

Squirrel meets fish, cuteness ensues.

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This red squirrel narrowly missed a deadly encounter with a pine martin, but this squirrel did NOT miss a deadly encounter with a bobcat, and ended up “what’s for dinner.

 

Celebrity corner

Even celebrities can’t get enough of squirrels. Take Ty Segall and Kurt Vile, who each played musical squirrels on a TV show, Animals.

 

Well I love Ricky Gervais, and since he saved an injured squirrel, I love him even more!!

 

 

I have to admit I had no idea who Jeremy Kyle is, but I guess he’s famous in the UK. If you want to see a British celebrity impersonate a squirrel having sex, then this one is for you. Also, I'm not so sure his impersonation is very accurate.

Arts corner: Squirrel murals

 

OR “squirr-als”?? Two new squirrel murals have popped up – one in Dublin, Ireland, and one in Philadelphia. Pretty awesome.

 

This week in cute

Watch this squirrel climb up a slide, then take a ride! Some adorable rodent play in this video!

Gray squirrel cull controversy

The United Kingdom is one of the few areas where both gray and red squirrels exist. As I’ve reported before, this co-existence is a threat for red squirrels, as grays both take advantage of resources that reds also rely on, and spread squirrelpox, which red squirrels (but not grays) are susceptible to. The ongoing question is how to manage this threat to the endangered red squirrel. The answer has been massive culls, which is not without controversy. The Guardian wrote an in-depth report on the “volunteer army” who are trying to eliminate grays. Worth a read!

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Should we feed squirrels?

Given that controversy over squirrel feeding led to an attempted murder trial in Colorado (more on that next time!), it seems ironic that a Colorado town is taking up discussion on whether it should be legal to feed squirrels. An 80 year old man, Gaylord Sigman, in Loveland was cited for feeding squirrels, which caused an uproar from animal lovers. A neighbor complained about the squirrels burying peanuts (obtained from Sigman) in his yard. Apparently, Loveland’s ordinance about not feeding wild animals does not specifically mention squirrels, which has led to some controversy. City Council is still discussing the matter.

 

Coming up later this week: squirrels and sports, squirrels and crime, squirrel rescue and the Squirrel Science Corner!

My dear friend Julie Hecht recently posted excellent advice on how to help dogs that might get stressed out about fireworks on her excellent blog DogSpies. We sometimes forget that cats can be afraid of the 4th too! They aren't huge fans of loud noises, and the unpredictability of fireworks can make them especially hard to habituate too.

Some cats are more adept at hiding their fear, or they might spend a lot of their time hiding anyway (note: this should not be accepted as "normal cat behavior"). So how can you make sure your cats aren't terrified of the Fourth?

Safety first: Make sure they're inside! Even if your cats normally go outside, the 4th of July is not a good day for them to roam. If they get frightened, they may run and hide or even get lost. Injuries from fireworks are another reason to keep your kitty confined on this holiday.

Photo via creative commons license courtesy of Wicker Paradise. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wicker-furniture/14786004405

 

Provide hiding spaces - make sure your cat has some cozy places to hide (not just under the bed). I prefer clamshell cat beds or pods, cardboard boxes tipped on their side, and cat carriers make excellent safe spaces if your cat has been trained that carriers = good. Some cats prefer to hide up high in a cat tree with a cubby.

 

Consider a "quiet room" - some cats do best if confined away from the noise and activity - especially if you are having guests over for a BBQ and there will be other chaos on top of the fireworks! Frequently opened doors are a good opportunity for a panicked cat to run outside, so sometimes it is safest to set up a bedroom or office as a safe room with everything the cat needs inside (food, water, litter box, cozy thing)...and the door closed.

Buffer sounds - fans, white noise machines, classical music, and talk radio can all help buffer the loud, unpredictable boom of fireworks.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Play therapy! Don't forget that play is a great way to help your cat be more calm and confident. Try a nice lengthy play session for your cat with an interactive toy earlier in the day.  Give your cat a snack afterward and they might just nap through some of those fireworks.

It's okay to comfort, but...do not pull your cat out of their safe spot or physically interact with them if they are giving clear signs they do not want to be handled (stiff body, shaking, hissing, hiding their face). Although we like to be comforted when we are scared, some cats prefer to be left alone. Try talking to your cat in a quiet voice and see if that helps first.

Just like with dogs, don't worry about rewarding or reinforcing fear - for the most part, animal behaviorists have tossed this antiquated notion out the window. Fear is an emotional state that provides information about the environment. We want to help our companion animals learn that the scary stimulus is in fact, not something to be terrified of. If we are calm and good things are happening for your cat, and you are calm and relaxed too, they might be less afraid next time.

If your cat is very stressed out, talk to your vet. No cat needs to suffer. If your companion animal shows severe stress in response to fireworks, it's worth talking to your vet about what options you might have for medication or neutraceuticals that could help! Please note that just like acepromazine is no longer considered appropriate for thunder-phobia and fear of fireworks in dogs, the same is likely true for cats. But there are other safe options out there to explore with your veterinarian!

I hope you and your cats have a safe and happy holiday!!

This year I was ecstatic that the ISAZ (International Society for Anthrozoology) conference was going to be so close to home and in one of my favorite places - Davis, CA! This conference focuses on human-animal interactions of just about every type you can imagine - from our relationship with pets, animal assisted therapy, education, training, wildlife conservation, and SO MUCH MORE! This was my third time attending, and I got to present some of my research on people's personality traits and their relationship with pets.

This conference is also a great opportunity to connect with amazing folks, talk about research ideas, sow seeds for collaboration, and do a lot of socializing over drinks and food! Plenty of social media representation at the conference - folks like John Bradshaw, Hal Herzog, Carri Westgarth, Molly Crossman  - who you should be following on Twitter if you love learning about our relationship with other animals!

If you couldn't be there, no worries, I've put together a Storify of all the tweets I could find relevant to the conference presentations and events!  If you'd like to check it out...click here!