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Smell the Coffee: If you give a squirrel a mint ...

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I didn't mean to offend. It was an innocent gesture. An offering. An attempt at giving a gift -- a minuscule morsel of minty sustenance. How could I have known it would be so easy to insult?

Truth be told, I've had a few run-ins with squirrels before and knew they could be temperamental. There was the one that discovered a missing slat in my roof vent and used it to access my attic while I was away. Over the course of a week, the Ty Pennington of fluff-tailed Sciuridae dragged three-quarters of what must've been West Virginia's only sequoia through that missing slat, then arranged the sticks with great care and efficiency between the rafters.

Had the squirrel been content with his overzealous abode and remained quiet during his time above, he might've enjoyed his den longer, but he apparently realized a love for dance and began to loudly study his art across the ceiling in the evenings, leading to his discovery.

Unnerved by a twig dwelling that seemed far too large for an ordinary-sized brood of tree rats, I feared I'd unearthed the love nest for a real-life Rocky and Bullwinkle and thus found myself in a quandary. I'm a catch-and-releaser of spiders and bugs, so a cute, furry squirrel was exquisitely safe, even one that was rapidly turning my attic into a crispy tinder depot.

And so Natasha (that would be me) employed the assistance of the wily Boris Badenov (neighborhood feral cat with bloodthirsty reputation), who I captured and put in the attic for an hour or so to distribute his threatening scent around in order to frighten the squirrel away.

It worked.

The squirrel left.

The cat stayed.

Though one squirrel might've been rendered homeless by my accord, others have prospered. Over the years, I've fed squirrels, photographed squirrels, had a pair of random adolescent squirrels come when I called them. I once did battle with a full-size hawk armed with nothing but an interoffice envelope in an ill-fated attempt to save a squirrel.

And yet, there's now a need to make amends.

Last week, while walking from the parking building to my office, I was accosted by a squirrel. It apparently recognized the odd lady who so frequently carries peanuts in her purse. Except that day when, after digging long and hard to try and find an errant peanut for her hopeful little friend, all she found was a single breath mint, which she offered instead.

Much to the offense of the small woodland creature.

That mint was spiked to the ground with such force it likely lodged in the dirt. The squirrel began hopping madly, chattering furiously. I don't speak squirrel, but I know that diatribe was laced with profanities.

When my daughter was small, she loved these children's picture books by author Laura Numeroff, among them "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" and "If You Give a Pig a Pancake." They're fun stories, all with a similar theme.

"If you give a pig a pancake, she'll want some syrup to go with it. You'll give her some of your favorite maple syrup. She'll probably get all sticky, so she'll want to take a bath."

Baths lead to bubbles, bubbles lead to rubber ducks, rubber ducks lead to wanting a trip to the farm.

But if you give a squirrel a breath mint, it could lead to an interspecies incident.

One for which the perpetrator is so very ashamed.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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