It was during the Spring of 2011 when I made the best of friends with a rather plump squirrel (Harris Antelope Ground Squirrel). The nickname “Fatty” was coined immediately when our bond began. Almost every morning I’d wake to the sounds of his loud trilling. Which was code for “Get up and feed me human!”
At first I assumed he merely wanted the seed, but as time passed that wasn’t the case.
Over a short period of time Fatty’s trust in me grew. He’d allow me to pet him while he indulged on his private pile of seed. Occasionally when we left the front porch door open he would invite himself in. Fatty was dubbed his name for a number of reasons. Sure he was hefty but it was his distinctive personality that separated him from the rest. He could be in a grouping of twelve other squirrels and I could spot him immediately. We noticed he would fight off other squirrels from “his” pile. Once I witnessed him punch a rabbit in the face. Eventually they all learned not to come between Fatty and his food. One important detail we had in common.
Did I mention Fatty was a pro at selfies? (if you hadn’t noticed lol.) Fatty learned quickly that my camera was nothing to fear. While he’d be chowing down I’d lean my head next to him to start the photo shoot. Fatty being the perceptive squirrel he was, began to test the waters of control. Some days he would demand his pile to be moved to certain locations.
He’d communicate by running to a different spot then start trilling until I scooped up the seed and placed it in front of him. In return I decided to try an experiment. A few days in a row I’d come outside before he arrived and place piles of seed in all his favourite spots and go back inside the house. I thought perhaps he’d be satisfied, but to my delighted surprise I heard his loud trill beckoning me to come out. When I opened the door and he stopped thats when I knew I meant more to him than just a bearer of food.
My small experiment showed me that he enjoyed my company and it wasn’t just the food that kept him coming back. The other squirrels and rabbits trusted us enough to remain on the porch while we were outside relaxing, but they never let us pet them. Fatty was the only one to befriend me.
At this point in the story I’d like to take a moment to reflect on a distinction that separates my relationship with Fatty from the typical animal/human odd couple. Usually you’ll find three consistent casualties that lead to a wild animal befriending a human.
1. An event of trauma or life threatening situation where one saves the other.
2. Raising the animal from infancy or a rather young age.
3. The wild animal depends on the human for basic surivival, ie shelter (Reservation, rehabilitation, zoo), food,etc.
(Another point I’d to make is Harris Antelope Ground Squirrels aren’t your average squirrel in the park that are accustomed to humans, these are a smaller breed that live in the desert, most run away at the sight of any movement or human in the area)
Our relationship doesn’t apply under these three commonalities that most bonds develop from. I didn’t raise him, never had to save him, and he wasn’t actually dependent upon us for food or shelter. Fatty was an adult wild squirrel living off the land long before we decided to start feeding the quail and other birds. Most importantly we never tried to keep Fatty, he was always wild and free to roam wherever.
During the two years we knew one another there was gaps where we did not see each other for various reasons. At certain times of the season when the rattlesnakes were out the squirrels would disappear. We’d allow the rattlesnakes to take residency in our garden, they weren’t the usual aggressive kind. During winter the squirrles were sparce as well even though they do not technically hibernate. Our longest gap of time was the six months I was away living in Boston. It was late December of2012 first day back, I remember opening the front porch door and seeing Fatty running straight for me like no time had passed. Next he darted around the corner to where we stored the seed and I followed suit. At the time I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me. He was just as comfortable with me as before. I could still pet him and even lightly squeeze his fat butt. We took some of the best selfies that visit.
Before I left back to Boston in January of 2013 we shared a moment I’ll never forget. If memory serves me correctly it was the last time we would see each other. Our usual morning routine began with his call for my undivided attention.
After feeding him his seed he scurried a few feet away and I stood to watch him dart into the desert, but this time he stopped. He looked straight up at me like he was waiting for me to do something. I started to follow him barefoot into the desert, completely unprepared for what was about to happen. He would run little by little and look back to see if I was still coming, then continue. It was then I realized Fatty was taking me (his human) on a walk.
We ended our journey at a rock he favored roughly 500ft away from the house. Once I arrived to sit, he crawled down off the rock as if to go further. That’s when I demanded we sit and somehow he understood me. He climbed back up the rock and sat on his hind legs next to me. We sat there for a while watching as the sun set behind the mountains. I’ll never forget that day.
Although it’s been two years since we were last together on that rock, I feel extremely blessed for the time we shared. Fatty truly captured my heart. He was a ladiesman to the fullest and such a cheeser!
As much as I miss him now I can’t be selfish. I’m thrilled and overjoyed to have had such a friendship.
It’s an incredible feeling when a wild animal like Fatty could trust a human such as myself. As well as the fact that he remembered me even after 6 months of not seeing each other.
I never tried to keep Fatty as a domestic pet. He was always free to live in the wild, I’m just lucky he chose to share a part of his life with me. To know he enjoyed my company is one of the greatest gift I’ve received in my lifetime.
I love and miss you my dear Fatty.
Fatty and I Black Hart Studios