Jessica Buhl was visiting the squirrels at Stephen P. Clark Government Center one day after work when she spotted one she'd never noticed before. The bushy-tailed female was beautiful, except for her snaggletooth. Buhl, an office administrator who works nearby at Ernst & Young, knew the flaw was far from cosmetic — in fact, she feared that if she did nothing, the squirrel would face an excruciatingly painful demise.
"I knew it was a problem," Buhl says. "One of her teeth is about to poke into her eye and the other is stabbing into her nose. It's a slow, terrible death."
She began calling animal rescue groups, wildlife centers, and
That's where she connected with Bradley Gene, a Crystal River landscaper who's amassed a cult following posting pictures of his photogenic pet squirrel, Seymour. With Gene's 24,000 Instagram followers closely monitoring the saga, he and Buhl have spent the last three weeks desperately trying to trap the squirrel they've nicknamed Sabrina, hoping a vet can file down her teeth before it's too late.
"I don't want her to suffer," says Gene, who traveled to Miami to personally assist. "The thought of her dying because her teeth are out of control kills me."
Once they trap Sabrina, Gene says it would take less than ten minutes to trim her teeth and save her life. But getting the squirrel down from the 22-foot tree where she sleeps has proven difficult. For the past 17 days, Gene, Buhl, and their army of helpers have made attempt after attempt. They've set out traps, purchased a telescoping pool net, hired a professional wildlife trapper, and given Sabrina small doses of baby Benadryl. But so far, nothing has worked.
"She's very fast and her nest is built like a fortress," Gene says. "We're dealing with essentially a super squirrel. She's really not falling for anything."
The ordeal has been an exercise testing the patience of cranky residents, the bounds of government regulation, and the kindness of county officials.
"It's a government property, so there's lots of red
This week, some county workers offered to help the rescue team using a cherry picker that was already on the premises. But Gene says someone caught wind of the operation and complained about wasted tax dollars.
"Someone saw the county workers with the cherry picker and came to the wrong conclusion that the government center was forking over money for
To date, Gene and squirrel lovers across the globe have shouldered most of the cost of the rescue attempts, with many of them contributing to a crowdfunding campaign asking for help. So far, he estimates the undertaking has cost at least $2,000.
"Just the parking alone is $14 a day near the courthouse," he says. "Every day there's parking, getting gas, getting hotel rooms, buying equipment to try to improvise, going to marinas to find telescoping fishing nets and catch nets, squirrel traps. Anything I can think of that would possibly work, I've not hesitated to buy."
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As Sabrina's tooth inches closer to her brain, the team knows the clock is running out.
"She doesn't have long. If she is not caught, she won't make it," Buhl says.
Moving forward, Buhl and Gene hope to find a county-approved vendor, perhaps someone with a pest control or tree-trimming business, with the right equipment to get up into the tree. And while the rescue mission has been time-consuming and financially taxing, the two say they won't give up until Sabrina is saved.
"I've been watching her for three weeks and she has such a fighting spirit," Gene says. "She's fighting, so I'm fighting."