Posted by: Kath Usitalo | January 21, 2013

A Day for Recognizing Leaders, Hugs and Squirrels

Squirrel by Tom, from Park Trades Center, Kalamazoo

Squirrel by Tom, an artist at Park Trades Center, Kalamazoo

Because this year January 20, the traditional Presidential Inauguration Day, fell on Sunday, the public ceremony and pomp was pushed to January 21 which, in addition to Martin Luther King Day is Squirrel Appreciation Day as well as National Hugging Day.

It’s called “National” Hugging Day but that’s unofficial—it has not been recognized as such by Congress. The celebration was founded by a Great Laker, Rev. Kevin Zaborney of Caro, Michigan, in 1986, to encourage family and friends to “hug often and freely with one another.” According to research, “positive touch, such as hugging, improves one’s physical, emotional and spiritual health.”

So it’s a good idea to spread the hugs, and the website offers ways of celebrating the day, like substituting a hug for a handshake. It describes different types of hugs and recommends asking before making the move, but I wonder if Scott Van Duzer followed that advice in September 2012 when he picked up President Obama in a giant bear hug at his Florida pizza joint. His photo is on the website as one of the year’s “Most Huggable People.” (You can also see a snapshot of Hugging Day founder Kevin Zaborney; the University of Michigan grad and Ambassador of Hugs is available for speaking engagement and, one presumes, hugs.)

Even if you ask and are granted permission it is never advisable to hug a squirrel.

The rodents roam every continent except Antarctica and, I was surprised to learn, Australia. Squirrels taunt gardeners by eating their tomatoes and stealing their flowering bulbs. They frustrate bird-lovers while raiding their “squirrel-proof” feeders. The wily wild animals do have their fans, however, including Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator in North Carolina who launched Squirrel Appreciation Day in 2001. She says, “Celebration of the event itself is up to the individual or group — anything from putting out extra food for the squirrels to learning something new about the species.” For more information about squirrels check out Christy’s website.

Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of hugging going on today by some squirrelly characters in the Nation’s Capital, but squirrel love is not reserved for Inauguration Day.

Each spring the Washington Post recognizes the critters; check out D.C. Squirrel Week by columnist John Kelly, who created the celebration in April 2011. In this column, one of several he’s written about the love’em-or-hate’em creatures, Kelly conducted an extensive Q&A with squirrel expert Richard Thorington, Jr. Dr. Thorington is curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where the collection of squirrel specimens tops 30,000. Our tax dollars at work!

A black squirrel scurries past the White House

A black squirrel scurries across the White House lawn

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