Autumn of the demented squirrels
Red squirrels always have been, well, a bit squirrelly, but this fall they are completely crazy.
They are high in the hemlocks, gorging seeds then leaping bough to bough and kuk-kuking incessantly. They are in perpetual motion this year, not stopping for more than a second at a time. I’ve never seen them so wild and crazy.
They haven’t acted this nuts since they raided my ATV shed and chewed two holes in the gas tank. After paying the $400 repair bill, I labelled the incident as random gas sniffing by a couple of delinquent squirrels.
This fall they are spending much of their time in the hemlocks, when usually they are in the oaks, or on the ground below gathering sweet, rich acorns.
It got me wondering whether there might be something psychedelic in the hemlock seeds. After all, it was a poisonous hemlock drink that did in the Greek philosopher Socrates. And, dead hemlock wood is where Reishi mushrooms, said to have medicinal qualities, flourish.
I discover, however, that our eastern hemlock is not the species mixed into the drink given to Socrates. Plus, there is no evidence that Reishi are magic ‘rooms that make you crazy.
My investigation did turn up something fresh and interesting. Researchers have found that some animals, like humans, get dementia as they age. I don’t know the ages of the squirrels I have been watching but they certainly are acting demented.
The researchers are warning pet owners that an estimated 1.3 million cats and dogs in Britain suffer from dementia. They say one-third of dogs develop some form of dementia from age 11 and two-thirds of dogs start at age 15.
“I don’t think that people really realize how serious this problem is,” Holger Volk, of the Royal Veterinary College, a leading veterinary scientist, was quoted in The London Telegraph.
Obesity, caused by cheap pet food and lack of exercise, helps bring on dementia in dogs and cats, he said.
Reports of dementia among cats and dogs are increasing. One British woman told The Telegraph that she suspected something was wrong with her 16-year-old cat Emma when it started meowing at the walls. Then it began walking around in circles and getting stuck in corners. She became alarmed and took Emma to a vet who diagnosed her with cognitive dysfunction syndrome, also known as feline dementia.
Emma’s actions would not have alarmed me because I’ve seen the same type of behaviour among humans at late night parties.
All this news about pet dementia does, however, explain much about the bizarre behaviour of pets I have known.
I always thought it was a mean streak that caused our dog Peanuts, now gone to the Big Kennel in the Sky, to act the way she did. Like how she used to run into the house and throw up on the living room rug whenever she saw me going off fishing without her.
Or the time we gave her two meatballs in tomato sauce as a special treat. She ran off with them and returned later with a satisfied belch and smile. We assumed that she thoroughly enjoyed them and was thankful for our kindness. Later we found the two meatballs, still whole, tucked into the folds of my wife’s favourite white satin bedspread.
So now we know that her nastiest tricks came not from a mean streak, but from canine dementia.
If cats and dogs can develop dementia, I suppose squirrels can too. But my squirrels are not old, don’t eat cheap pet food, are not obese and certainly are not lacking exercise. Quite the opposite.
When they run about crazy-like, stamping their little paws, shaking their heads and flicking their tails while pouring down on me a stream of curses and squirrel dirty words they are being deliberately hateful.
This is behaviour designed as pure revenge. Retribution for treating with “extreme prejudice” the two gas sniffers who ate my ATV. And the two others who chewed into my bunkhouse, looking for a warm winter home.
No, these squirrels don’t have animal dementia. They are just squirrels being squirrels. They think they own the place.