Azusa Pacific’s campus squirrels have endured much from students; nonetheless they persevere. 

I judged them completely. Scarred from shame, mistrust and deception, I averted my gaze, not wanting to tempt myself into his (or her) big, bright, brown eyes.

At the time of my first APU squirrel encounter, I was a freshman. Seeing it pretend to be adorable by eating a Wendy’s frosty, I decided to build my wall of hatred up higher. Six years prior I hadn’t felt that way. However, when a mass flood of squirrels threatened to attack me in Zion National Park, I resolved to never trust a squirrel again.

That was until I realized that the APU squirrels might feel the same way toward us. For a year and a half, during the COVID-19 lockdown, they were ghosted by the majority of APU’s population. The thousands of students that once greeted them every day left without a warning. We left them without leaving a morsel of crumbs behind. 

Not only this, but we have abandoned them every summer. Realizing this, I started to sympathize with the squirrels’ strife, which is why I think it is time to explore the depth of their testimony. We might not have been able to hear their cries for help then, but we can listen to them now. 

Squirrels may be little geniuses, but, according to an article in the Mammalian Biology journal, they have learned to rely on us for food especially during the cold months. We left them stranded throughout winter in the lockdown year. In Azusa, temperatures dropped down to 45 degrees most nights and only ever got to the upper 60s during California’s historically coldest months of the year. And the lessened human population made the squirrels’ hunt for food more strenuous. 

APU alum Mila Reyes says this explains why when she returned to campus, the squirrels were skinnier. “They looked like they had a glow up,” Reyes said. However, I think this makes light of what they went through. 

To further investigate, I reached out to a few local experts, but they did not get back to me. Thus, I contacted a friend of mine, Sasiana Balseca, who I knew wanted to be a veterinarian, so I figured she would probably know about squirrels. Balseca provided a breakthrough, revealing that squirrels are related to rats, which I knew but hadn’t really thought about. She further revealed to me the horrors of the rats’ pandemic year food-shortage crisis, which was heavily documented. 

Unfortunately — due most likely to blatant media bias against squirrels — the squirrels’ struggles were not reported on as much as the rats. But seeing that they come from the same family, we will have the rats’ struggles speak for the squirrels.

Urban rodentologist Bobby Corrigan spoke to Fox News on how the pandemic was affecting urban rats. “Starving rats, of course, like most mammals will become aggressive and violent, killing and then eating other rats in order to stay alive,” Corrigan said. 

This reveals that APU squirrels did indeed likely starve like the rats did. It also shows that they probably turned aggressive toward each other. Not only did they lose their trust in humans, but they could no longer rely on one another. This is disheartening because squirrels are generally pretty social creatures, according to a University of California study

The Fox News article also mentioned that in desperation, rats snuck into houses for food. APU sophomore Ashley Slaughter said she hears what she believes are squirrels in her Trinity Hall air conditioning unit, pitter-pattering around every night. Humans shouldn’t feel upset when squirrels get into their walls. Instead they should be glad the squirrels aren’t outside with them since the CDC warns that the pandemic made rats (and, by my rodential association, squirrels as well) uncharacteristically aggressive since — in layman’s terms — they’re hangry.  

APU sophomore Sam Gennaoui, a physiology major, told me he thinks that when rodents are in a state of survival, they can’t help their aggressiveness. He explained to me the theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Gennaoui said the theory means that unless a being’s basic needs are met, such as food and water, then there can be no love, friendship, problem solving, morality or self-confidence. So, while Reyes believes the squirrels looked all cute after the lockdown, they were actually probably very insecure. 

Though this is all very depressing, Slaughter added a brighter spin to the squirrel’s life. “As seen by the way squirrels eat through power lines, the reason why squirrels love staying in the campus trees is so that they watch students study as a part of their plan to one day overtake the world,” Slaughter said. 

I told Slaughter that this still doesn’t help the fact that the squirrels suffered during the pandemic with no knowledge and no food. In response, Slaughter said, “Not so Morgan. During the pandemic, the squirrels were able to hone their skills. They watched the athletes train. They mimicked them. They learned from the nursing majors too. That’s how the squirrels were able to rehabilitate each other.” 

Until researching for this article, I did not realize how little I understood about squirrels. For starters, I never realized that the ones who chased me in Zion were the infamous rock squirrels and not APU’s gray squirrels. According to the National Park Service, rock squirrels are the most dangerous animals at the Grand Canyon. On Zion National Park’s site, they advise staying 50 feet away from the heathens, promising they can and will bite. Zion even wrote on their facebook post, “Rock squirrels are not afraid of people. In fact, they see people as free lunch.” 

On the other hand, the gray squirrel is remarkable. They have gone through so much, yet they don’t bite us. They have forgiven us, and it is time I move into a new season and forgive them too. For in the matters of true love, chances must be taken.