This time, music failed to soothe the savage beast


(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published March 11, 2001.)

It is a chilling question that we have all asked ourselves: What would we do if, God forbid, we had to get a squirrel out of a piano?

This very question confronted an animal-control officer in Fairfax County, Va., recently, according to a news report from the Washington Post sent in by roughly two million alert readers. According to this report, the officer was responding to a report of ''a squirrel running inside a residence.'' When the officer arrived, the squirrel ``jumped into an open baby grand piano.''

Fortunately, the officer had the training, the courage, and -- above all -- the musical talent to deal with the situation. To quote from the Post report, which I am not making up:

'After the officer started playing the song `All I Want' by the group Toad the Wet Sprocket, the squirrel jumped out of the piano and onto curtains, damaging them.'' The report says that the squirrel then jumped onto the officer's head, and then onto a couch, where the officer was able to apprehend it and release it unharmed.

So everything turned out OK, which is very fortunate. I mean, what if, in the heat of the moment, the officer had played the wrong tune? What if he had played ''Copacabana,'' by Barry Manilow? The squirrel probably would have ripped his throat out. I know I would have.

In an effort to learn more about this incident, I made a tax-deductible long-distance phone call to the Fairfax County Police Department and spoke with spokesperson Sophia Grinnan. I asked her if the officer's tactics were based on those used by the U.S. Army during its 1990 invasion of Panama, when our troops played loud rap and heavy-metal music in an effort to dislodge outlaw dictator Manuel Noriega, who had taken refuge inside a piano. Officer Grinnan told me that she did not believe there was a connection. She said that the officer, whose name is Andrew Sanderson, had simply made a spur-of-the-moment decision to play ''All I Want'' on the piano containing the squirrel.

''He's musically inclined,'' said Grinnan, adding, ``I mean the officer, not the squirrel.''

In any event, for now the situation in Fairfax County appears to be under control. But that does not mean that we can afford to be sanguine. For one thing, we have no idea what ''sanguine'' means. For another thing, there have been several other alarming recent incidents of wildlife running amok:

INCIDENT ONE: According to an Associated Press report sent in by alert reader Joel Kupecz, during a rush hour in Syracuse, N.Y., an apparently rabid beaver, foaming at the mouth and ''rumored to be twice as large as normal,'' was ''rearing on its hind legs and running and snapping at cars.'' A police officer was forced to shoot the beaver. (Apparently there was no piano available.)

INCIDENT TWO: According to an Associated Press report from Jarratt, Va., sent in by many alert readers, motorists on Interstate 95 were attacked by fruit-throwing monkeys. A police officer, responding to motorist complaints, observed ''three brown monkeys in an oak tree, throwing crab apples.'' The monkeys, which police believe may have escaped from a circus, then fled on foot. They apparently are still at large, possibly working in the field of Customer Service.

INCIDENT THREE: This is an alarming report from the Al-Riyadh newspaper sent in by alert pension actuary Bob Lebenson, concerning some irate baboons in Saudi Arabia. What happened, according to Al-Riyadh, was this: A motorist driving on a mountain road ran over a baboon and killed it. So the other members of the deceased baboon's squadron waited in that same spot for THREE DAYS. When the motorist returned, one of the baboons screeched out a command, and all the baboons threw stones at the car, breaking the windshield before the driver escaped. It was clearly a revenge hit. Baboon Sopranos!

These last two incidents are particularly disturbing, because they are not random loner attacks by fugitive squirrels or clearly disturbed beavers. Instead, they involve organized hostile wildlife displaying far more intelligence and planning ability than, for example, the U.S. House of Representatives. Should we, as humans, be concerned about this? Should we take action? Can we, at the very least, agree that ''Fugitive Squirrel and the Clearly Disturbed Beavers'' is a better name for a rock band than ''Toad the Wet Sprocket''? Think about it! Personally, I am sanguine.

© Dave Barry

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