Eric Onassis, salsa dancer turned stage producer, adamantly refuses to talk about his upcoming shows, his Miami Lakes and Palm Beach homes, or any of his celebrity friends. Nor will he comment on anything related to his yacht-tycoon-sounding name or his work with Carol Burnett. There is only one thing on the Onassis agenda today: "Let's stick to the squirrels."
Some people find God through nature. For others, it's poetry, drugs, or an inspiring cleric. Onassis, a 53-year-old Spaniard, had a life-changing encounter with a squirrel. "Those magic squirrels, Chantell and Fredlynn," he says, "changed me spiritually."
The vermin epiphany, Onassis says, was triggered by Hurricane Katrina. One of the storm's casualties, a live oak in Miami Lakes, had been home to a squirrels' nest. The squirrel madre died when she was catapulted from the tree and squished by a car.
But two of her babies hairless, blind, quarter-size survived. A neighbor who found the orphaned squirrels scooped them up into a shoebox and delivered them to Onassis, a known animal-lover. "My heart went out when I saw those squirrels," he states. Onassis provided triage, feeding them low-fat milk through an eyedropper. Then he phoned animal shelters throughout Miami. But none of the agencies had any interest in squirrels.
"They are hypocrites," he asserts.
So Onassis did what any person who stumbled upon two orphaned, blind, hairless baby squirrels would do. He logged on to Squirrels.org which he says is the go-to source for squirrel-ophiles learned some essentials about their biology, and began waking up every two hours at night to feed them. He has toted the squirrels with him to New York, Las Vegas, Hollywood. They've been on planes, Greyhound buses, Metrorail trains, boats, helicopters.
Onassis talked to his squirrels, bonded with them, and soon sensed they understood him. Then, one day, as he was listening to music, he noticed they were unusually "happy."
For the past month and a half, he has been dancing with the squirrels. "They love 'Arrasando' by Thalia," he remarks.
Even as he salsa-ed with and grew attached to Chantell and Fredlynn, he intended on sticking to the basic wisdom that squirrels are not pets, advice he picked up from Squirrels.org. "I told the squirrels that at four months," Onassis says, "I will release you." But on the fateful day after he said goodbye and opened the door so the squirrels could pursue a life of nut-hoarding and tree-climbing they didn't move.
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Inspired by his new pets, Onassis wants to spread the gospel. "My goal is not publicity for myself," he states. "My goal is to inform people about the squirrels. Most people hate squirrels. They kill squirrels." But Onassis believes he has proved that "squirrels can be pets."
Recently at a whistle stop during his campaign to rebrand the squirrel, Onassis appeared on Spanish-language television network Univision. In a five-minute segment that aired Sunday, December 11, Onassis kisses, fondles, cuddles, talks with, and bumps and grinds (to Thalia of course) as the squirrels cling to his sport coat.
"They dance and roll all over me," Onassis says. "The happiest moment of their life is when they are on me. "
Onassis looks forward to more public appearances with the squirrels and, more important, a long, happy life with Chantell and Fredlynn. "An average squirrel in the wild lives to five years," he notes, "but a squirrel in captivity can live up to 20 years."