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Kicking off Squirrel Week 2022 with some squirrels in the news

A meth-addicted attack squirrel? The Alabama man who owned this critter — named Deeznutz (the squirrel, not the man) — says no. (Limestone County Sheriff's Office/AP)
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Last fall, a Canadian man named Jeff Samler was emptying the back of his truck in his driveway when he was attacked by a squirrel.

“He just ran up my leg, ran around my head,” Samler told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “I tried to get him off my head. He bit me through my glove. It drew a little bit of blood, but not like I needed stitches or anything like that.”

Samler knew the squirrel — or thought he did. It was a regular visitor to his neighborhood in Carleton Place, Ontario. Samler called the squirrel “Short Tail.” It is not known what the squirrel called itself.

In December, a (different) squirrel terrorized a town in Wales, turning on Corinne Reynolds. She had been happily feeding the gray squirrel — “Little Buddy,” she called it — since spring.

“All those months he’s been fine; he would even come and take a nut out of my hand,” Reynolds told the BBC. After Little Buddy left a crescent-shaped wound in one of Reynolds’s fingers, she started calling him “Stripe,” after the nasty protagonist in the 1984 movie “Gremlins.”

Reynolds later learned the same squirrel had attacked 17 other people in the village of Buckley. “Psycho,” “bloodthirsty” and “bitey” were some of the words used by the British press to describe Little Buddy/Stripe, who was captured and euthanized.

Those are just two of the squirrels that made headlines recently, the result not of their bushy-tailed cuteness but of a reminder they painfully provided: Squirrels are wild animals.

Today marks the beginning of my 12th annual Squirrel Week. In 2011, I decided that if the Discovery Channel could have a week devoted to sharks, I could devote a week to a wild animal we’re all a lot more likely to see.

And more likely be injured by. According to a 2019 paper in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions by Utah State University’s Michael R. Conover, 3,126 people in the United States sought medical treatment after run-ins with squirrels in the one-year period he studied: 2007. Last year, 47 people were bitten by sharks in the United States.

But it isn’t all squirrels messing with humans. Sometimes — more often probably — it’s humans messing with squirrels. A man in Alabama is awaiting trial in a case involving what police called an “attack squirrel.” Authorities allege Mickey Paulk made the squirrel — named “Deeznutz” — more aggressive by dosing it with methamphetamine.

“The squirrel is not on meth,” he insisted. “I honestly think that would actually kill it.”

The squirrel-on-meth story reminded me of something a reader told me early in the history of Squirrel Week: that the squirrels in Lafayette Square were once high on crack.

I’ve never found any evidence of this. I suspect the rumor started in 1989, after President George H.W. Bush launched his war on drugs by holding up a baggie of crack he said had been purchased across from the White House.

According to the urban legend, D.C.’s squirrels were nibbling on crack crumbs. But would a crack addict leave anything for the squirrels?

Meanwhile, in early March, the power went out in 4,000 homes in three New Orleans neighborhoods. A squirrel got the blame.

“We look out here and we can see the squirrels,” Jim Bulling told WWL-TV. Bulling lives across the street from a substation and every morning watches squirrels commuting along the power lines.

Meanwhile, last year in Columbus, Ohio, someone posted a sign claiming to have spotted a “big squirrel” in Clinton-Como Park. How big?

According to the sign, “Twice the size of a regular squirrel!”

A search party was organized — “We will not harm or capture it,” a flier stated. “We just want to get a good look!” — but no trace was found.

Seven months later, a WCMH news photographer happened to be at a different park, three miles away, when he recorded footage of a squirrel described as “bigger than average.” However, nothing in the frame provided a sense of scale, so it’s tough to say exactly how big the squirrel was.

White squirrels seem to be on the increase. In 2019, one was spotted outside Fishweir Elementary School in Jacksonville, Fla. A second-grade teacher there told WJXT that her class watched as the squirrel cracked acorns on a branch outside. The event was turned into a teachable moment.

In other school/squirrel news: An armed man was spotted last month near a day-care center in Hamilton County, Tenn. Two nearby schools went on lockdown.

Shortly after arriving on the scene, deputies found that a man on the property next to the day care was shooting at a squirrel. The sheriff’s office determined that the man was shooting in a safe manner.

Let’s just hope squirrels never get guns. Then a bite on the finger would be the least of our worries.

Tomorrow: Science has proved that members of this squirrel species have something in common with humans: personalities.

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