Insight on the furry creatures that share Pacific University as their home
You see them, you know them, you love them.
The Western Gray Squirrel and the Common Raccoon. Probably outnumbering students on campus. And if mascots were chosen by prevalence and importance, Pacific University may bump the Boxer for the Squirrels and Raccoons.
Like vampires and ravers, raccoons tend to rule the night, which crosses paths with students’ late-night McDonald’s run or, at the other end, pre-dawn sports practice. With robber masks around their eyes, the Pacific Northwest Raccoon is a bandit-like-looking creature—and their interest in searching the dumpsters for food often places them outside the dorm halls on campus. Known for their aggressive demeanor, it is best not to try to befriend them. They may not attack humans, but can be quite dangerous to cats and dogs.
Meanwhile, though, our Pacific University squirrels tend to rule the daytime—the cute yin to raccoon’s menacing yang. It isn’t uncommon for students walking to class to need to stop for a squirrel crossing—and their adorableness has even given rise to fan clubs.
But did you know the squirrels, unlike the night-slinking raccoons, were not always here? They are transplants. Just like most students here.
More than 50 years ago, a transfer student Brian Douglas brought them onto the campus after realizing how gloomy he thought the campus felt without the creatures roaming around. It was 1970.
Douglas and a biology professor posited that squirrels had been driven out over the years by local farmers, especially nuts farmers, including the region’s prolific hazelnut industry. Together, the student and professor recruited a small squad they called “The Squirrel Team.”
Over six weeks or so, The Squirrel Team set live-traps throughout the region, mostly around oak trees and at fruit orchids, and one-by-one gathered squirrels and brought them to campus. They bred like, well, rabbits—and Douglas’ pet project (pun intended) spawned a massive squirrel population.
A half-century later, squirrels are part of the campus as much as students—and they have even earned their own social media presence. A quick google search of “Squirrels of Pacific on Tumblr” will bring you to their Tumblr page, filled with pictures and stories.
“It was a cold January afternoon two years ago when Jerry first came into my life,” starts Tess Wright, a junior Dental Hygiene student. “The story begins in the notorious study room of the fourth floor Mac. Some called it the Crows Nest, others the Lounge, but I only knew it as home. Outside the study room window, I could see a dark cloud in the distance and dreaded the rain that would soon follow. While I stood staring at the cloud, engulfed by my thoughts, it was then that I saw him. His mysterious frame crept into my line of sight, pulling me back to reality. He sat just past the closed window, looking out at the dark cloud as if he was also dreading the rain to come. He was a chunky little guy but not nearly as chunky as he would become. I would now call this squirrel named Jerry my pet for the rest of the year. His fur rustled aggressively in the harsh cold wind. As our eyes met, I felt a calmness fall over me, like the peaceful quiet that snow brings to a grass field. It was as if I was looking at an old friend as if we had met before only in a previous life, and maybe we had. Whenever I was having a bad day, I knew I would see Jerry outside the window, which would change my mood.” — Avari Schumacher
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