Wa­ter-ski­ing squir­rel puts on a show — and shares a mes­sage

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FAMILY PETS - By Brit­tany Britto

You can teach your dog how to sit, fetch and roll over, but can you teach a squir­rel wa­ter­sports? Lou Ann Best can. The li­censed wildlife re­ha­bil­i­ta­tor, who lives in Florida, has raised sev­eral wa­ter­ski­ing squir­rels who carry on the name “Twiggy,” af­ter the first res­cue squir­rel Best adopted in 1978.

More than three decades later, the 61-year-old Best has cre­ated one of the world’s great­est squir­rel lega­cies — squir­rels that wa­ter-ski, swim and float, all while help­ing raise aware­ness about wa­ter safety, Best said.

The squir­rel celebri­ties have also starred in national com­mer­cials, movies, TV shows and mu­sic videos, in­clud­ing the video for coun­try mu­sic singer Brad Pais­ley’s song “River Bank.” And this week­end, Twiggy 7 and Twiggy 8 will be show­ing off their skills at the Mary­land Home and Gar­den Show at the Mary­land State Fair­grounds. (They will per­form at

Pet peo­ple

noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. today.)

The squir­rels, whom Best takes on cross-coun­try and over­seas tours, started with a joke about Best’s hus­band be­ing far more en­am­ored with a re­mote-con­trolled toy mo­tor­boat than with his chil­dren. He thought of the idea of get­ting the squir­rel onto the boat. Best trained Twiggy, which took about a year and landed her on the cover of news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines around the coun­try.

“There’s adults, men in business suits. There’s grand­mas and grand­pas. There’s peo­ple with kids,” she said. “Twiggy draws peo­ple of all ages. It’s amaz­ing to me.”

Today, Best uses the squir­rel fame to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on wa­ter safety — a cause she keeps close to her heart af­ter her hus­band drowned in an ac­ci­dent in 1997.

Twiggy’s rou­tine, ad­her­ing to the motto, “Learn to swim, learn to float, and wear your life jacket all the time when you’re in the boat,” con­sists of 9-year-old Twiggy 7 wa­ter-ski­ing, float­ing and even swim­ming laps around the pool. Twiggy 8, who is 10 years old, min­gles with the crowd.

Best said she still gets “tickled” when she sees Twiggy 8 swim­ming.

“The only way I can ex­plain it is that I hon­estly be­lieve in my heart that the Lord put this crazy idea into my hus­band’s head,” she said. “He knew how he was go­ing to pass away. He knew he’d talk me into car­ry­ing on and do­ing wa­ter safety, and I feel with all my soul that was Twiggy’s pur­pose . ... I may never know if she saves some­body, but I have to be­lieve that’s why.”

LOU ANN BEST

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