The harrowing experience of apprehending a vicious groundhog

Turns out groundhogs live on Grounds — and don’t really like people

lf18-pollard

Tom Pollard is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

I’ve always loved the presence of nature on Grounds. From the green fields to the docile squirrels and the endless trees, few college campuses can claim to be as calming. With exams increasing and stress on the rise, I’ve found myself appreciating the environment even more than usual. Last week, I read that exposure to nature can even decrease levels of stress and boost overall mental health, which I thought made perfect sense. After all, what part of the University’s natural environment could be stressful?

Unbeknownst to the naïve, pathetic fool I was three days ago, I was about to encounter the answer.

I discovered the dark side of University wildlife last Friday while driving with my friend Ian. We were passing by a small grove of trees near Lambeth when he slowed the car to a halt. He stared at the trees, his eyes fixed on something in the grass. I squinted and could just make out what looked like a heavy brown coat someone had left under a tree. Without saying a word, Ian pulled the car over and put it in park.

“Hold on, what is that?” I asked.

“Groundhog.”

Even though I couldn’t see many details, I trusted his judgement. Ian is a master of all things wild and dangerous — the kind of hiker who could stay calm in a pit of snakes while fighting a tiger. He’s also just the person that could identify an animal from a moving car. Still, a groundhog? Like the large squirrel that predicts the weather? Did they even live near the University? We stepped out of the car and walked a few feet closer.

For the first time, I took in the details. It was a Groundhog all right, but much scarier than I had imagined. I think I was expecting something akin to a squirrel or a gerbil. This was closer to a two-foot-long Paleolithic monster — a hybrid of the worst parts of a rat and a wild dog. Maybe my brain was exaggerating a bit, but something about the beady eyes, matted brown fur and teeth like steel pincers made me uneasy.

“Something’s wrong,” Ian said. “I need to examine it.”

I looked at Groundhog and then back to Ian. Then back to the Groundhog.

“What?”

“It isn’t showing signs of disease, but I think it’s injured. Look at its leg.”

I glanced back down at the groundhog. One leg was sticking out at an odd angle, but I couldn’t be sure. It was staring at us now — unblinking eyes filled with an emotion I couldn’t identify. The longer I looked at it, the more I got the absurd feeling it was hungry.

I shivered. “Should we… call some—”

The groundhog made a sound somewhere in between a squeal and a demonic laugh and lurched forwards. I shouted, taking several steps back. Ian took one step to the side and started circling around behind the beast, keeping low to the ground.

“Don’t move,” Ian whispered to me. “I need a stick.”

The groundhog stood its ground between us, teeth bared.

“A stick?” I reached for one a foot away from the groundhog’s face. It hissed and I shot back again. “Wait, will it bite me?”

“Yes! Some experience made it aggressive against people, so be careful. Also, don’t look in its eyes.”

My heart pounded in my chest. A groundhog might not seem too frightening in retrospect, but I wasn’t thrilled about getting closer to those inch-long teeth. Trying to ignore the monster’s hateful gaze, I reached out my fingers towards the stick again. In a single, uncoordinated motion, I managed to nudge it over to Ian. In an instant, he used the stick to pin the demon to the ground, then put his hand on the back of its head. The groundhog hissed and snapped but could barely move. We did it.

“Oh cool, it’s not injured.”

“What?” I blinked.

“It’s leg is fine. I guess it was just lazy.”

“Oh.” I glared at the creature, furious I risked my fingers for nothing. For once, it didn’t meet my gaze. Instead it sniffed the ground, like it had lost interest in the situation. Outstanding.

With care, Ian gave it a small hug — I don’t think it deserved it — and released the fiend back into the forest. I never touched it. Still, I felt some pride in what we had accomplished. Sure, we risked our safety for an animal that turned out not to be in any danger. And I don’t think I’ll ever be quite as calm on Grounds again knowing there are killer groundhogs afoot. But we — and by we, I mean Ian— caught a groundhog. It might not have been good for my stress levels — or the Groundhog’s — but there is some intrinsic value in doing something so weird and exciting. 

I just don’t ever want to do it again.

Also, I realized I would write an article about this while it was happening, but I realized it would be a little hard to believe. So, here’s the proof:


Courtesy Tom Pollard


Tom Pollard is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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