Squirrel roughs up Iraq veteran in park

Amanda Reavy

Frank Garren is a tough guy. The 6-foot, 4-inch former Army sergeant was awarded a Purple Heart after surviving a roadside bomb while deployed in Iraq in 2004. He knows about combat and quick reactions.

An angry squirrel is another matter, said Garren, who reported just such a run-in recently in Washington Park.

“You might expect a mugging in the park, but not to be attacked by a tree rodent,” the 34-year-old Springfield resident said Monday. “I never thought a squirrel could kick my (behind).”

He said the animal, which Garren estimated weighed 2 to 3 pounds, pounced on his head after he simulated a squirrel call to get its attention Sunday afternoon.

Garren walked away with several scratches on his face and head, and a newfound respect for a squirrel’s agility.

“I think next time I’ll keep my distance,” he said.

As with any wild animal, squirrel attacks are possible but not common, said Greg Largent, director of operations for Sangamon County Animal Control.

“People encounter wildlife in a variety of situations, and you know wildlife is unpredictable, so who knows what the squirrel was thinking, but for whatever reason, it behaved that way,” he said.

Garren said he’s not exactly sure what provoked the attack.

He and his girlfriend, Amy Stone, frequently go to Washington Park. The Sunday afternoon outing allowed Garren to work on an assignment for his biology class at Lincoln Land Community College.

“I had to look for lichens and other fungus,” he said.

The couple were on the west side of the park near one of the ponds when Garren spotted an “enormous” male fox squirrel on a tree branch. Garren has hunted squirrels before, and said he’s never seen one that size before.

“He was as fat as a softball,” he said, adding that the squirrel appeared two feet long, head to tail.

Garren said he made a squirrel call to get the animal’s attention, thinking it would impress Stone.

“Whatever I said in squirrel language must have made him mad,” Garren said. The squirrel latched onto Garren’s head and face with its claws before running off.

“I was left dumbfounded,” he said, noting he only saw a flurry of fur and eyes. “It was like someone had hit me with a brick.”

The couple said Stone was “rolling on the ground laughing” until she realized Garren was bleeding.

Stone said the attack happened quickly. “I was a little freaked out, I guess, but I was also laughing,” she said.

The couple went to Memorial ExpressCARE at Koke Mill Medical Center to have Garren checked out. A woman who answered the phone at ExpressCARE said her office could not confirm Garren’s treatment, or comment on whether or not they treated any squirrel-related injuries.

Garren suffered a scratch on his forehead, two on his head and two scratches on his left cheek. The scratches were not deep enough for stitches, so medical staff cleaned the wounds, gave him antibiotics and reported the incident to Animal Control, he said.

Garren said he became concerned when he was told he might have to receive a rabies shot.

“As a retired military guy, I was still pretty nervous. But I’m not going to have to have one. I was current on all of my shots.”

Garren said he didn’t report the incident to Springfield Park District police. Park police Capt. Jonathan Davis said he encourages park users to report animal attacks.

“We want to be aware of it so we can handle the problem,” he said.

Garren’s account is the first squirrel attack that Davis has heard about.

Though infrequent, squirrel attacks have been reported across the country.

In May 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a student and two parents were attacked by a squirrel that ran into a San Jose elementary school classroom.

Less than a year earlier, local media reports indicated squirrels attacked several patrons, including a 4-year-old boy, in a park in Mountain View, Calif. Park officials said efforts to keep squirrels and other animals out of the trash receptacles combined with warnings against feeding the animal might have made the squirrels more aggressive.

Largent encourages people to report any animal attack to Animal Control.

“Whether it’s a dog, a cat or a squirrel or a rabbit, they all have the potential for carrying rabies,” he said.

Though he can joke about it now, Garren said he realizes the attack could have been worse, especially if he had not been wearing sunglasses.

“The claws were very sharp, and if it had wanted to bite me, it could have done some serious damage. They crack acorns like it’s nothing,” he said.

Amanda Reavy can be reached at (217) 788-1525