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Dopey was anything but!

By Jean C. Keating


I named him Dopey! Our association began when he was an immature squirrel that seemed to enjoy teasing my pack of eight Papillons. He had my schedule memorized and was always sitting on the floor of the deck, flicking his bushy tail when I opened the door to let the dogs out in their yard for an outing. He wasn’t deaf. He proved that many times when he arrived at the bird feeder before I could get there with seeds and treats.

He had to know the precursory sounds of the door being opened and the happy barking from inside the house of a pack of excited little furballs. But he’d wait until the first dog was through the door and almost close enough to step on that bushy little tail before taking off down the steps into the yard and racing for the nearest tree. Papillons are descendants of dwarf continental spaniels and proud of their principle duties as companions and couch potatoes, but they have not forgotten their ancestral love of the chase.

Dopey would make it to the nearest dogwood tree and scramble up the slender trunk just ahead of the pack of happily yipping toy terrors. Somehow I could never avoid adding to the din by screaming at the dogs to stop. Not that any of the four-footers ever paid the slightest attention to me!

As eight excited dogs tumbled over one another around the trunk of the dogwood, Dopey would scamper up the branches, leap to the larger tulip poplar beside it, and cross to the other side. The alpha female of the dog pack was usually the first one to note that Dopey had continued his trail to the ground on the other side of the larger tree and was headed for a small hole beneath the fence at the edge of the yard. He would manage to wiggle under the fence just ahead of eight dogs running at top speed after him. He would climb another tree just outside the yard to stop and chatter – probably in squirrel laughter—as the eight small bodies impacted with the chain length fence and each other, their momentum causing an amusing but thankfully non-harmful pileup at the fence.

Dopey could have chosen any number of trees after the tulip poplar as a safe haven; he could have stayed in the tree-tops and been safely out of reach of the small, five-to-seven pound dogs. But he seemed to love the chase as much as the dogs.

I worried that as he grew the small hole beneath the fence would be too small for his growing body and the dogs would smash into him before he could get away. I worried what the dogs would do if they actually caught the silly little squirrel. But as the days of summer turned into weeks and then months, I came to realize that Dopey would have calculated all of the aspects of his game too well to be caught.

I took to adding treats to the bird feeders for him. And then to placing a larger container on the rail of the deck with treats that he seemed to especially enjoy. Unshelled peanuts were his top favorite; sunflower seeds his second.

Toward the end of summer, I noticed that the game had changed. Dopey still led the dogs a merry chase across the yard, but now he sprinted up a tree closer to the fence’s edge and stopped aiming for that tiny hole under the fence. When I’d observe him sitting on the edge of the deck waiting for the morning game, I marveled that the frail little body had turned into a fat, happy and mature squirrel.

By the next season, he was too busy or old to play, and the dogs missed him terribly. He still comes to his special feeder, enjoying his tributes and scolding sharply if I’ve forgotten to include his unshelled peanuts. The dogs and I hope that someday he’ll father another little tease like himself. Meanwhile he has me busy insuring that his favorite treats are available at all times. I guess you would have to say he is anything but dopey!


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