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 Daytona, Fla., has raised several water-skiing 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 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 country music singer Brad Paisley's video for his song "River Bank." And this weekend, Twiggy Seven and Twiggy Eight will perform their skills at the Maryland Home and Garden Show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.
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 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 Best keeps close to her heart after her husband died in a tragic drowning accident in 1997.
Twiggy's routine, adhering to the squirrel's 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 Seven water skiing, floating and even swimming laps around the pool based on the number of fingers held up by a member of the crowd. Ten-year-old Twiggy Eight mingles with the crowd for affection and photo ops, Best said.
And it never gets old for Best. She still gets "tickled" when she sees Twiggy Eight swimming around in the pool, she said, and she's thankful for the meaning behind it.
"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."
If you go See Twiggy perform at the Maryland Home & Garden Show at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Oct. 14-16. Maryland State Fairgrounds, Craft Hall, 2200 York Road, Timonium. $3-$9 for general admission. Free for ages under 6. mdhomeandgarden.com