A Man and His Squirrel

By Will Peisch, The Dartmouth Staff | 10/6/15 11:36am

Last spring, Ham — short for Hambleton — Sonnenfeld ‘16 was walking past Rollins Chapel when he noticed an animal in distress.

“I heard this noise that sounded like a bird chirping,” he said. “There was this young squirrel just making a lot of noise but not going anywhere. I could tell it was young and scared, and I’m assuming it was abandoned or had lost its nest.”

As he approached the squirrel, Ham grew more curious. The squirrel didn’t run away, so he coaxed the injured mammal into his backpack and brought him back to his off-campus house.

From there, he constructed a terrarium from an old, empty fish tank, and after some research, Ham and other members of the house gave him a bowl of water and some granola and named him Karl. Ham decided to bring the squirrel into his home because of a recent personal loss.

“My cat of 16 years had just died that weekend so that’s why I kept the squirrel,” Sonnenfeld said. “I said, ‘I don’t really believe in coincidences. You know what, I’ll run with this.’”

Naps on naps on naps #sleepykarl

A photo posted by Karl the Squirrel (@karlthesquirrel) on May 7, 2015 at 6:58am PDT

Once Karl became an accepted member of the house, Ham built a social media presence for Karl, creating a Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram account for the squirrel. After a while, Karl became acclimated to living with Ham.

Gettin some morning exercise in #summerbod

A video posted by Karl the Squirrel (@karlthesquirrel) on May 7, 2015 at 6:03am PDT

“For the most part he would just be hanging out around the couch, but I put him in my sweatshirt pocket sometimes. I think part of it was sometimes he didn’t like being in the terrarium, so I would put him there overnight, but during the day I would let him hang out in the house,” Sonnenfeld said.

Squirrel treadmill #fitkarl

A video posted by Karl the Squirrel (@karlthesquirrel) on May 10, 2015 at 11:32am PDT

As one might imagine, letting a baby squirrel roam a fraternity freely led to some complications. Ham said that Karl often liked to burrow in couches, shirts and other garments, so members often had to be careful where they sat. Baby squirrels like seeking out warm places since they can’t create their own heat, so letting Karl burrow himself in these items probably played an integral part to his survival, even though it might have led to some close calls.

On to bigger and better adventures in the wild, D house will be missed #karlisfree

A photo posted by Karl the Squirrel (@karlthesquirrel) on May 11, 2015 at 7:02am PDT

Ham designed the terrarium so that Karl could easily leave if he ever wanted to return to the wild, which eventually did happen.
“One morning I came outside and he was gone from the terrarium, so I thought I guess that’s how it is, he’s free now,” Sonenfeld said.
The following morning, Ham was walking back from Thayer and he saw a squirrel sitting in the parking lot. He could tell it was Karl, and invited him back up to his shoulder.
“Completely free will, spent the night in the wild but came back, so that was really cool,” he said.

First tree climb #karltheadventurer

A photo posted by Karl the Squirrel (@karlthesquirrel) on May 10, 2015 at 7:06am PDT

Sadly the story of Ham and Karl does not have a happy ending. On May 13, Ham posted the following status update.

When I spoke to Ham, he added a little more color to the circumstances of Karl’s death.
“It was like a crime scene,” he said. He noted that although the squirrel had food and water close by, he was lying motionless next to the pencil.

When I asked how Karl’s death made him feel, Ham said, “The way I see it I extended his life for a couple of weeks.”
Still, there did seem to be a little part of him that sincerely missed having him around. He clearly realizes how ridiculous — and kind of awesome — having a baby squirrel as a pet was.

Ham’s experience with Karl changed him, he said.
“It just made me want to play with every squirrel I see. So it was kind of a let down actually, because I got used to when I walk in and see a squirrel, say ‘Yo Karl what’s up’ and go over and play with him.”

Instead, he noted, a lot of fully-grown wild squirrels can be pretty destructive.

Will Peisch, The Dartmouth Staff