It was supposed to be a simple fix: one of the squad car’s headlights was out. However, when the deputy took the car to the garage to be repaired, the mechanic found something else. The root cause of the problem was still inside the vehicle – and it was something no tool could fix.
McHenry County Sheriff’s Office is the law enforcement department of Illinois and employs around 400 people. Its official website describes their officers – also called sheriffs – as “conservators of peace.” In fact, it was one of their deputy sheriffs that became the center of recent attention.
The unnamed deputy had actually been taking a few days off work. On his first day back, he had some trouble with his squad car. It didn’t seem too serious, but the vehicle wasn’t roadworthy as there was a problem with one of the headlights.
The headlight in question was on the vehicle’s passenger side and it wasn’t working. So, the deputy took the car to a garage to get the problem looked at. But when the mechanic opened up the vehicle, he found something odd.
Another officer with the MCSO – Deputy Sandra Rogers – spoke to The Dodo about the incident. “The mechanic began replacing the headlight, and noticed the wire had been chewed,” she said on June 23, 2017. But what could have caused it?
There were a number of potential candidates – rodents have been known to get into vehicles and damage wiring. Whatever the cause was though, it needed to be fixed, and so the mechanic got to work. As a result, he found something even more unusual.
“He started to fix [the wiring] when he saw a whole bunch of leaves,” Deputy Rogers explained. It looked like something had indeed made its nest in the car, but it wasn’t rats. As the mechanic examined the structure, he found the culprits.
Somehow, a mother squirrel had found her way inside the wheel arch and made a nest there. Although she wasn’t home, she had left clear evidence of her presence. “[…] Inside the nest of leaves were four baby squirrels,” Rogers reported.
The mechanic got in contact with the car’s owner – who was asleep at the time – to share the discovery. Despite the unexpected wake-up call, the deputy headed to the workshop with his kids in tow. It was a great opportunity to show them some baby squirrels.
The kind-hearted mechanic managed to take the car wheel off and extract the nest, all without waking the babies. Rogers said: “They were all in perfect condition and sleeping soundly when they were removed by the mechanics.” The infants certainly won the hearts of those present.
“It was really cute because their eyes were still closed and they were all tucked in a circle,” Rogers continued. But what became of the baby squirrels when they were removed? Well, they were given back to the deputy, who took them home with him.
The deputy drove back home with the baby squirrels with the intention of reuniting them with their mommy. He placed the nest – complete with sleeping squirrels – where his squad car was previously parked. His instincts were spot on, and it wasn’t long before their mom returned.
Mother squirrel gathered her offspring and they have since reportedly found a new home. But why did she choose to nest in a car’s wheel arch in the first place? Well, according to the website Doityourself, squirrels are attracted to cars because they give off heat.
“[They’re] attracted by the warmth of the engine, which creates a cozy place for them to nestle,” it explained. “[Squirrels] create a fine mess once they bring in nuts, acorns, and nesting material.” They are also prone to chewing wires, as they did with the deputy’s car.
It’s actually quite a common problem in rural areas, and several sources have offered solutions. For example, the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) suggests you make your car a less attractive nesting ground. Leaving your car hood open in the daytime helps by cooling the vehicle down.
Because squirrels like to chew, using taste deterrents is another good method of repelling them. CWF advises using bitter apple spray, which you can get from veterinary clinics or pet stores. In addition, scent deterrents can help keep the squirrels away.
“It’s rumoured that squirrels don’t like the smell of peppermint or curry powder,” CWF said. But they also offered a warning to those using this method. “Be careful with peppermint around your pets and small children, as it could be harmful to them.”
A less risky method is to use the distinctive smell of a predator to scare off squirrels. According to CWF, sprinkling pet hair or placing an open bag of used kitty litter in your vehicle works. “The squirrel will likely feel intimidated by the smell,” they explained.
The main thing to remember is that whatever you spray or put in your vehicle, make sure you don’t damage it! Get advice from your mechanic, or you might as well just leave it to the squirrels. And try to follow the example provided by the MCSO.
It’s a sad truth that some people see squirrels as little more than a nuisance. But not McHenry County Sheriff’s Office; it went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the safety of the mother’s brood. It’s something we should all aspire to.