I received an angry letter the other day from someone calling himself Rocket J. Squirrel demanding to know why we, meaning dogs, I guess, are so committed to the persecution of him and the others of his species. Why, he asks, do we feel the need to chase, bark at, and, in the occasional but tragic instance, to catch and kill us? What, he wants to know, have squirrels ever done to harm dogs?
Reading this I was taken aback. I mean, everyone knows squirrels can’t read, let alone write. Still, the issue is an interesting one and whoever this person is, he deserves an answer.
Let me start by saying this is a subject I’ve never given much thought. Why would I? I mean, we’re talking about squirrels here, not giant pandas or spotted owls, though I’d love a chance to chase one of those if I could find one somewhere. But anyway, now that I’ve had the time to think it over I can say Mr. RJS has his facts wrong.
Not all dogs like to chase squirrels. My pal Duke couldn’t care less. What squirrel? Even dogs who don’t like squirrels don’t all feel compelled to hunt them down. Jack, my big German shepherd friend, hates them but ignores them. One would have to practically fall out of a tree onto his head to get him to react.
I, on the other hand, have a fascination with them that borders on the obsessive. If I see one in a tree, on a telephone wire, or, better, on the ground, I feel an irresistible urge to have it. I don’t know why. Unlike Jack I don’t hate them. They pose no threat to me. They don’t even have rabies. (I’ll have to remember to pass this on to Phoebe). They are almost cute, in that furry rodent sort of way. What, then, is it?
The closest thing I can compare it to is the human obsession with trout. Live trout. Swimming around in a lake or river. Dead trout do not have the same appeal. I’ve seen humans walk right by them at the fish market and pay absolutely no attention. I feel the same way about squirrels. I mean, if I come across a dead one I’ll give it a sniff, but that’s about it. Dead squirrels are a little gross and not very interesting.
But back to the trout. Humans will drive for hours just to stand in some cold stream at dawn, waving a long stick rigged with line they can barely see that gets tangled in knots they can’t undo every 15 minutes or so, with a tiny hook tied to the end of it dressed up to look like some dead insect in the hope that a trout, preferably a large one, will mistake it for the real thing and eat it.
Fortunately for the humans, trout are dumber than squirrels and they eat the fake bug often enough to justify all the trouble and misery involved in this dubious enterprise. But it gets even stranger. After the trout has been caught, dead to rights, in the net, the humans will more often than not let it go! Just like that! They call it ‘catch and release’. I call it serious trout harassment. But hey, I’m a dog. What do I know?
This brings up another interesting point. Squirrels, it turns out, are fragile. It doesn’t seem like they would be with all the running around and climbing they do, but they are. I’ve caught a few and experienced this frailty first hand. One little bite, a couple of playful shakes, and it’s all over. Dead squirrel. And you know what that is. Yep. Gross and kind of boring. It’s also makes us seem a bit brutish.
So I want to thank the guy who wrote the angry letter. I realize that regardless of why I like to chase them, (and who really cares about that?), I could stand to improve my technique. I need a little finesse. I need to work on my ‘catch and release’. One squirrel caught today and let go, alive, is one more squirrel to chase tomorrow, and that’s really what it’s all about. Right?