Meet The Squirrel Whisperer Of Happy Valley

A squirrel at Penn State University has become a social media sensation. Emily Reddy of WPSU reports that undergraduate student Mary Krupa discovered the squirrels on campus were so tame that they'd eat from her hand, soon putting hats on them and even setting up a Facebook page, which now has more "likes" than the school's mascot.

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Now a story about squirrels at college with a wildly-popular Facebook page. At Penn State, one student's collection of photos of squirrels wearing costumes has gotten four-times as many likes on Facebook as the school's mascot. Emily Reddy of member station WPSU explains how the rodents became a sensation.

EMILY REDDY, BYLINE: Mary Krupa is sitting beneath a massive elm tree that flings Penn State's administrative building, Old Main, and watching for her favorite squirrel.

MARY KRUPA: See how she walks? She just kinds of trots over here. That one's Sneezy. Hi, Buddy.

REDDY: As the brown squirrel comes closer, Krupa reaches into a paper bag to get Sneezy a peanut.

KRUPA: Oh, yeah. She sneezes pretty frequently.

REDDY: The Penn State junior is also known as the squirrel whisperer. This squirrel is clearly her favorite. But Facebook friends of Sneezy the Penn State Squirrel could actually be oohing and ahhing over a few different squirrels - any of the ones who let Krupa dress them up. After just a little coaxing, the squirrel is in Krupa's lap.

KRUPA: She's getting hungry again. Peanuts are her favorite. I buy them in, like, five-pound bags.

REDDY: While Sneezy is busy with another peanut, Krupa balances a tiny ball cap made of paper on the squirrel's head, and snaps a picture with her cell phone. Krupa figured out she could pet some of the Penn State's squirrels freshman year, so she started putting hats on them and posting pictures online - straw hats, cowboy hat, beanies with propellers.

KRUPA: I started realizing that she'll do props now, too. I borrowed a little doll tea set from my aunt. And I put a little peanut butter on the cup. And I have a nice picture of her. She's having a fancy English tea.

REDDY: People couldn't seem to get enough of Sneezy. Her Facebook page has more than 17,000 likes. And she's gotten news coverage around the world. Sneezy is a quirky novelty that Krupa says she uses to cheer people up. She doesn't mind if that makes her seem a little odd.

KRUPA: Yeah, I mean, putting hats on squirrels is not exactly normal behavior.

MATT SPENCER: I think it's pretty cool - just the amount of trust that, like, they have with her.

REDDY: Matt Spencer likes seeing Krupa around campus dressing up the squirrels.

ANNIE KLODD: (Laughter) That's adorable. Are those real pictures?

REDDY: Grad student Annie Klodd is checking Sneezy out on Facebook.

KLODD: I think it's a really good idea. And if I would've thought about it myself maybe I'd make it a hobby.

REDDY: Klodd says she'd do one thing Krupa doesn't - she'd wear gloves. But Krupa's done her research. It turns out squirrels are very unlikely to carry rabies. Still, Sneezy is a wild animal. And like most wild animals - and celebrities - she calls the shots.

KRUPA: I can never force her to do anything she doesn't want to do. I mean, if she gets tired she'll just go up the tree, and it's all up to her.

REDDY: For NPR News, I'm Emily Reddy in State College, Pennsylvania.

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