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Departments : The Beat

Squirrels Don't Forget

After playing game warden, a state police officer found himself in a blood feud with a rodent.

January 01, 2003  |  by Robert C. Cardwell

State senators do some strange things and take up some unusual hobbies. Maybe that's why one of these esteemed gentlemen decided the squirrels in Sacramento's Capitol Park were too tame and needed some new blood.

His solution was to introduce a wild gray squirrel from his own district. "I'm sure you will notice a difference in a short period of time," he said.

Truer words were never spoken. Once that gray squirrel had settled into his new home, the California State Police officers who patrol the park experienced a dramatic increase in the number of squirrel bite reports. They went from none to 30 per day.

Management at the State Capitol quickly decided that the senator's bushy-tailed buddy had to go. They called in the Department of Fish and Game.

And then the games really began. Two Fish and Game wardens chased this easily recognizable squirrel around the park for a week. The squirrel, not being stupid, slow, or lazy, made them look like idiots. He anticipated their every move and avoided every trap. Finally, the two wardens, out of ideas and frustrated to the point of surrender, requested help from the State Police. One State Police bicycle officer volunteered to show the wardens how to do the job.

So now we had three grown men in uniform chasing a squirrel around the park. And as often happens when authority figures are doing something silly, the squirrel chase soon became a spectator sport for the tourists and the locals, with most of the people rooting for the squirrel.

By the middle of the second week, the men had the squirrel trapped in a tree. The squirrel ran down the trunk and leaped into the air, just as one of the wardens threw a net. The net caught about half of the squirrel, and both the squirrel and the net fell to the ground. Where the enraged squirrel wriggled his way to near freedom.

Maybe it was because he'd spent so much time chasing the rodent, but the bicycle officer wasn't about to let the squirrel escape. He lost all sense of caution and dove onto the ground, grabbing the squirrel around the neck with both hands. He finally had the squirrel.

Then the squirrel had him. It let out a yelp, and sank its very sharp, very large teeth into the officer's hand. But the officer, even though he was grimacing in pain, wouldn't let go. The wardens managed to pry the squirrel off of his hand.

It was caged up and taken back to the senator's home district. The officer was transported to the ER for some painful stitches and shots.

Three weeks later, the same bicycle officer was riding through the park. He had recovered from his wounds, the sun was shining, it was a good day to be a bicycle cop in Capitol Park. Then things got weird.

A park squirrel, in an uncommon act for a squirrel, raced toward the officer's bike and, with perfect timing, launched itself through the spokes of the front wheel. The squirrel then moved slowly across the grass, glancing back at the results. It was totally unharmed, and some witnesses even say it was smiling.

The officer was not quite so fortunate. Upon seeing the squirrel racing suicidally, headlong toward his front wheel, he went to the brakes, locked up his front wheel, and was launched over his handlebars face first onto the asphalt path. The injuries included several lacerations, a broken nose, and a broken cheek bone.

I don't know whether to believe it. But a theory later developed among the officers in the park that the attacker was a female squirrel seeking revenge for the loss of her lover.

Robert C. Cardwell is retired from the California Highway Patrol. He has more than 30 years experience in law enforcement.

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