As I was trying to come up with an idea for this week’s blog post, my husband, Terry, made a suggestion: “Why don’t you write about Psycho Squirrel?”
Last fall, we started tossing peanuts in the shells to squirrels in our backyard. We were captivated by the show they put on as they acrobatically chased each other along the fence and through the tree branches. Plus, we liked being nice to our furry neighbors.
Most of the squirrels picked up the peanuts and scurried away, burying them to eat in the winter. A couple of squirrels, however, were smart. They learned that humans meant food, and every time they saw us, bounded over to the ground below our back deck. They’d sit on their hind legs, twitch their tails, and look up at us expectantly. Of course, they were rewarded with peanuts.
Aw, aren’t they cute?
Well, they started getting brave, and crept up the steps of the deck. We opened the back door, which led into the kitchen, and tossed out a peanut. The squirrels scurried away with the peanuts, buried them, and came back for more. So then we squatted down low, cracked open the full-length glass storm door, and held the peanuts at their nose height. They were skittish at first, but soon began taking the peanuts right from our fingers.
They’d sit on the deck, hold the peanut to their mouths and roll it, as if looking for a place to bite the shell. Sometimes they ate the peanuts, and sometimes they ran away, buried them, and came back for more. If we weren’t right at the door, we could hear them tapping on the glass with their tiny claws.
Aren’t they cute?
We ended up with three “pet squirrels”—one day they all kept coming to the door like a tag team. Eventually, if they saw us, they’d leap through the trees to the ground below the deck and then run up the steps. When they saw us walking up the driveway, they followed. We started keeping a small ceramic bowl filled with peanuts on the counter next to the back door, so they’d be handy when our squirrel buddies showed up. We imagined that they really appreciated us when 18 inches of snow blanketed the ground and all their peanuts from the fall were hidden.
A few weeks ago, spring finally arrived, and we exchanged the glass in the storm door for a screen. We hadn’t seen the squirrels in awhile, but one showed up. She looked well fed, but still remembered how to beg for a handout.
I opened the screen door, held a peanut low for her, and she took it. She came back several times; I fed her about five peanuts. Then I had to go back to work. I closed the screen door, but the main back door was open to let the warm breeze into the house.
A couple of hours later I walked back into the kitchen and stopped short. The screen by the door handle was shredded—someone had broken into the house! Then I noticed the ceramic bowl was empty, there were broken peanut shells all over the floor, and a small yellow puddle on the counter.
The squirrel had chewed through the screen, eaten all the peanuts, and left. I couldn’t believe it. I shut the main back door—wood with glass panes at the top—so she couldn’t come back in. But she had learned well, and a little while later I caught her trying to climb through the hole in the screen again.
That was it. Now it was No Contact with the squirrel.
Terry took the screen out so it could be repaired. The squirrel didn’t know this, so when she next saw me in the kitchen, she leaped at the door, expecting to cling to the screen. Instead, she slammed into the regular door with its glass panes. With nothing to hold on to, she slid to the deck.
We stayed on the No Contact program, even though the squirrel kept following us around the yard and begging. No more handouts, no more bowl of peanuts on the counter by the door. In fact, since we couldn’t really tell the squirrels apart, none got fed. One overly aggressive squirrel had ruined it for everyone.
After a couple of weeks, hoping the pushy squirrel had forgotten that she had been sponging off of us, we replaced the screen, which had cost $25 to fix. It was fine for awhile, but the other day, I walked into the kitchen to find holes in the screen next to the door handle. She didn’t forget. But at least there were no peanuts on the counter, so the squirrel didn’t come in.
Now the screen needs to be repaired again. “That squirrel owes me $50 for the two screens,” Terry complained.
We don’t think the squirrel is going to pay. In fact, it’s probably going to cost us even more, because now Terry has decided we should invest in pet-proof screens.
Sigh. And it all started because the squirrels were so cute and we wanted to be friendly.