“My squirrel is babied beyond anything anyone can imagine,” the 35-year-old fugitive told The Washington Post in a phone call from an undisclosed location early Thursday morning. “It has a very good life.”
Paulk and his unusual pet have been in the spotlight since Monday, when authorities in Limestone County, Ala., accused him of keeping an “attack squirrel” in a cage and feeding it methamphetamine so that it would stay aggressive. The story made national headlines, but Paulk insists that he raised the squirrel as if it were his own child, bottle-feeding it every few hours and keeping it warm with a heating pad when it was first born, and any allegations to the contrary are slander. He doesn’t even like it when people smoke around his pet.
“The squirrel is not on meth,” he insisted. “I honestly think that would actually kill it.”
Paulk and the squirrel, who he named Deeznutz, have had a wild couple of days. According to the Decatur Daily, narcotics officers from the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office were tipped off about the squirrel during a drug investigation, and they showed up with a search warrant on Monday. They seized an unspecified quantity of methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, ammunition and body armor from the apartment, and confiscated the squirrel. Paulk wasn’t there, but another man who was present was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and loitering in a drug house.
“Welcome to the South, man,” one neighbor told WAAY. “We’ve got squirrels on meth.”
In fact, the Daily reported, it was impossible to confirm the animal’s alleged meth use — officers didn’t find any drugs in his cage, and there was no way to safely test the squirrel for meth. But because it’s illegal to keep a squirrel as a pet in Alabama, they couldn’t just leave him there. Because the creature seemed healthy and wasn’t emaciated, police released him in a wooded area nearby.
Paulk, for his part, claims that he had moved out of the apartment several weeks before because he didn’t want to “continue to live a certain kind of lifestyle,” and his name wasn’t on the lease. The squirrel was going to be the last thing that he moved over to his new place, because his new roommate had a cat who he thought might scare it. He had been going back to his old apartment every day to check on the squirrel and feed him, he told The Post, but the contraband that police found there wasn’t his.
“The charges that are on me are just as bogus as the squirrel doing meth,” he said.
Once he learned that police had released the squirrel outdoors, Paulk went back to try to find his twitchy companion. He had never planned on adopting a squirrel in the first place, but about a year ago, while he was working for a company cutting trees, the baby fell off of a branch. Paulk, whose previous pets included a raccoon and a tarantula, took the small creature home. For the next six weeks, he woke up every two hours to feed him formula and make sure that the heating pad was working. Eventually, he trained the junior squirrel to use a litter box, sleep in a hammock, and eat potato chips and caramel M&M’s. When the animal started having seizures, Paulk took him to a veterinarian over the state line in Tennessee, who diagnosed the squirrel with a calcium deficiency and told Paulk to cut back on nuts and seeds, and give the squirrel more squash and avocados.
Paulk told The Post that there was no question he had to go back for the squirrel. The creature had been living in captivity since he was just a few hours old and would surely die if left to fend for himself in the wild. Returning to the scene of the drug raid, he heard a screaming sound coming from a tree about 50 to 60 feet away. It was his pet.
“Once he saw it was me, he came on down,” he said. “He jumped on my arm, and we got in the car and left.”
Meanwhile, news stories about the allegedly meth-fueled attack squirrel had gone viral, outraging animal lovers. One neighbor told WAAY that he thought Paulk was “sick” and should be locked in a cage himself. “I think the guy is illiterate,” another neighbor commented. “He’s not thinking all the way clearly. He must be on something."
On Tuesday night, while still on the lam, Paulk logged onto Facebook to defend himself in a live-streamed video. Gently caressing the wide-eyed squirrel as he spoke, he declared the charges against him — possession of a controlled substance, certain persons forbidden to possess a firearm and possession of drug paraphernalia — to be bogus. And while his pet could be mean, and had certainly bit a few people, he was no attack squirrel, he said. If he was, Paulk argued, why would police have released him into the wild, where he could potentially hurt someone? Undeterred by his open warrants, he called into a local country station, too, and assured listeners that the squirrel was just fine. “He’s in his hammock right now, munching on a piece of celery,” he said.
Law enforcement confirmed that it was Paulk in the live-streamed video but were less sure that the squirrel was the same one that they had released into the woods after the drug raid.
“We don’t know if he might even have two squirrels,” Stephen Young, a spokesman for the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office, told the Associated Press. “It would just be speculation.”
Early Thursday morning, Paulk was still a wanted man. Thanks to his new infamy, a number of lawyers have contacted him, he said, and he plans to turn himself in once he has legal representation sorted out. He told The Post that he was “far enough away that it would cost them some gas to come get me,” and that he had just dropped off the creature with “a licensed person who deals with squirrels and whatnot” in Tennessee.
Otherwise, he feared, law enforcement might euthanize the squirrel once he was in custody.
“I do miss him,” he said. “I usually let him sleep somewhere near my bed. I do miss him hard."
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