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May 05, 2020

A Wild Ride to Safety

Fostering Community

As dog owners, our daily routine is pretty set, even more so in this period of COVID-19 induced isolation. Every morning, I let Haddie and Hugo out for a run in the field. They wait impatiently as I open the door and vibrate in anticipation as I walk to the back gate. The minute the gate swings wide they’re off like grey hounds, bounding towards the garbage bins in search of the elusive squirrel. It’s a funny little ritual born wholly out of canine instinct. I think it’s Hugo’s instinct that started it. He is fascinated by squirrels and desperately desires to catch one, hence the daily race to the bin. Haddie rarely notices squirrels but lives to follow Hugo’s lead, not entirely sure what the plan is but happy to trail behind.

One morning last week Hugo’s wish came true. An actual squirrel was perched on top of the bin. This rarely happens. Our habitual Trafalgar squirrels know the routine and are smart enough to stay off the bin in the morning. This squirrel obviously hadn’t read the memo, and as the dogs approached the bin at lightning speed, I realized we had a situation on our hands.

Okay, I thought. This shouldn’t be a problem. All the squirrel has to do is stay on top of the bin where it’s safe. But squirrels are dumb. At least this one was. Rather than rest in safety, it scampered down the bin and ran desperately across the grass in the direction of a nearby tree with Hugo in hot pursuit and Haddie along for the ride. Realizing it wasn’t going to outrun a dog, the squirrel began to zig and zag, creating what looked like an odd dance comprised of three tails and twelve legs. It was quite the sight. After mere seconds (that felt like an eternity), the squirrel emerged from the choreographed chaos and ran back up the bin, leaving Hugo frustrated and Haddie happy but confused.

Surely to goodness, I thought, the squirrel has learned its lesson. It must realize it can’t outrun a dog. It’s going to stay put, right?  Wrong. Did I mention squirrels are dumb?

Before I could grab the dogs by the collar, that little squirrel did something I’ve never seen a squirrel do. It took a running leap, an actual running leap, and propelled itself horizontally off the garbage bin – due south, to be exact, in the direction of the tree. The squirrel flew through the air with remarkable speed. It flew through the air with surprising grace. It flew high over Hugo’s head and landed right on Haddie’s back.

I actually don’t know if Haddie realized a squirrel was on her back. She’s a hard one to read. But she knew something was amiss and so she did what startled dogs do. She began to run. The squirrel was equally startled as I suspect landing on Haddie was not part of the plan. But once committed, it doubled down and hung on to Haddie’s back for dear life, looking somewhat like a tiny rodent jockey urging its mount toward the finish line. Whether it was by design or sheer luck, Haddie ran due south toward the tree, and sensing its good fortune, the squirrel leapt from Haddie’s back and scampered up to the safety of a high branch.

Free of her furry passenger, Haddie stopped, shook herself off and trotted over to Hugo who remained standing (somewhat stunned) at the base of the bin. Haddie seemed quite pleased with herself (although her simple approach to life makes her easy to please, in general). Hugo, however, was not impressed. Not only had Haddie failed to help take down his valued prey, she’d given it a ride to freedom. Her failure as a hunting partner was evident.

I’ve thought a lot about our little squirrel since that day. The slapstick nature of the entire episode continues to make me smile, but it’s the creativity and determination of that spunky creature that stays with me. I know I’m anthropomorphizing a rodent but I think we should all be allowed a bit of literary latitude during a global pandemic. So in the spirit of heroic idealism combined with a bit of fantasy, I’ve decided to believe that our tiny flying squirrel saw the promised land (i.e., the tree), recognized a roadblock (i.e., Hugo) and seized on a creative idea (i.e., Haddie). There are likely to be many roadblocks in our way as we collectively navigate the weeks and months ahead. No doubt there will be times when obstacles appear insurmountable but I propose that when this happens we all remember the squirrel, Hugo and Haddie (the Uber Dog!). Be bold! Be brave! And use the resources at hand!

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