Twiggy the water-skiing squirrel has been making the rounds at boat shows and other aquatic events all across the nation for years, thrilling crowds with her amazing feats.
This weekend, the popular rodent is performing at the Philadelphia Boat Show with her owner, Lou Ann Best, who uses her act to teach about water safety.
Best told Philly.com that training a squirrel to water ski is not as nutty as it sounds. All it takes is repetition and a lot of love.
“It’s like training your husband,” she said. “You give him love, and you tell him the same thing over and over again until he gets it right. You can’t do it with food because a squirrel is just going to hide it. It’s all affection and repetition.”
Best explained how she trains her squirrels:
When we got the first Twiggy, she became so popular, and people thought we were squirrel experts. People started bringing squirrels to us. You pick and choose the ones with the best personality and go from there. For the show, they have to learn to count. I pick a kid, and they pick how many laps they want Twiggy to go, and 99 percent of the time she goes that many laps.
Best’s husband Chuck was the inspiration for her mission to promote water safety. Chuck died in a tragic boating accident while rescuing his stepfather in 1997.
“I have three segments of the show,” she said. “In the first, I introduce my helper and Twiggy and me. I start out with Twiggy in my jacket. I say, ‘Some of the tabloids got a-hold of Twiggy, and they told a bunch of lies. Now she thinks she’s a star.'”
I put a life jacket on Twiggy. It’s required for children for them to have it all the time, so I tell them they have to wear them because otherwise their parents will get in trouble.
My husband isn’t here because he didn’t have a life jacket handy. He went boating with his stepfather, and his stepfather fell in. We were river rats, but his stepfather couldn’t swim. My husband forget to grab a life jacket when he went in to save him. Drowning people will fight you, so my husband isn’t here anymore. I know he’s up there in heaven saying, “Learn from my mistake.” The Lord had a purpose for Twiggy. He put this idea of a water-skiing squirrel into my husband’s head because he knew he would pass away and I could carry on and teach these kids about water safety.
In the middle part of the show, I do a skit where I encourage kids to take their swimming lessons and learn to float, because you can float forever.
I did a show at a water park last year, and this kid ran up to me and said, “I learned to float just like Twiggy said!” That’s the magic. I’m talking, but they hear Twiggy. I don’t know whose life it will save, but I have to believe that someone’s life will be because these kids learned to swim or float and wear their life jacket in the boat because of Twiggy.
Best said that sadly, she is unable to take Twiggy on plane trips to other countries anymore because the airlines now require her to put her beloved pet in the baggage hold, which she won’t do.
In Germany, they polled all these different people to say what their favorite act was, and everyone said Twiggy. They all want me back, but I haven’t been able to get Twiggy in the airplane, and I won’t put her in baggage hold. In December, Dubai had the biggest boat races in the world, and they wanted Twiggy to come. And I’m like: “Send your plane! I’m not putting her in the baggage hold.” I had to turn that down, and they were going to pay really well. After Northwest partnered with Delta, they won’t let Twiggy fly anymore. I guess they see this little squirrel as a terrorist [laughs].
Nevertheless, Best said she is “tickled” by all of the attention Twiggy gets.
“It’s so rewarding to do something that makes people smile,” she said. There are more adults that come to my show by themselves than adults with kids.”
Watch Twiggy wow the crowd at the Central Carolina Boating and Fishing Expo in 2011: